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03 July 2019 | in Summer Universiade

Napoli 2019 Opening Ceremony - As it happened!

NAPOLI, 3 July - The much awaited 30th edition of the Summer Universiade is finally here! The grand opening ceremony will welcome more than 6,000 athletes from over 100 countries around the world, along with thousands of feisty local Neapolitan spectators. Welcome to live updates of the Opening Ceremony of Napoli 2019. What we are about to witness over the next three hours or so will leave us spellbound, so we are told. There's good reason to believe it too - the producer-director of the ceremony is famed creative director Marco Balich, who has some 20-odd Olympic ceremonies under his belt. 

 

The symbolic 'U' of FISU, of university sports and of the Universiade itself is the strongest motif that greets the spectators as they file into Napoli's iconic Stadio San Paolo. A large 'U' made of chairs. Smack on centre stage. 

 

The concept of the ceremony is that the 'U' represents a big hug, from the warm locals to the thousands who have arrived from all over the world. The 'U' also represents the Napoli 2019 slogan #ToBeUnique. And one thing we can assure you is that this is going to be unique, really unique.

 

A few minutes to go and a roar erupts from the crowd as about a 100 or so performers walk in. At the other end, there is a float that represents the sea, so perhaps we're about to see the appearance of mascot Partenope, whom the locals call a 'siren' and we just say mermaid. Because that's what she is.

 

Take a look for yourself on the right. Mermaid, right? The doll, not the legendary swimmer Massimiliano Rosolino of course. Who happens to be a Napoli 2019 ambassador. A very proactive one too. 

 

Alright then, we are starting this off with a hat tip to none other than the President of Italy himself, Sergio Mattarella. There he is, standing right beside FISU President Oleg Matytsin.

 

At one end of the stadium is a structure that is clearly representative of Mount Vesuvius and it is glowing in stunning shades of amber and red. And yes, Partenope descends from the sky and floats onto the… well, float.

 

Athletes Parade 

Now, we begin with the most important part and the most important people - the athletes! The march past commences with Albania and its four delegates. The crowd gives them a resounding welcome. Massive cheers also for the Argentinian delegation, from a large group in the stands. The Australians are here now, looking excited, taking selfies, dancing to the foot-tapping music and generally taking in the atmosphere. The Austrians that follow seem rather composed in comparison.  

 

The gigantic 'U' made up of chairs that takes up more than half of centre stage was seats for the athletes. Okay, maybe that should've been obvious from the start. The Brazilians are making their way across now... dressed as chefs. Yes, all of them. With chef hats and aprons etc. for reasons that are not quite clear yet. Or maybe I will be enlighted shortly, like with the chairs. 

 

Now that's what we call a delegation - a sea of red and white invades the stadium as the 200 or so Chinese athletes stride in. Kingdom of Eswatini comes in way earlier than they would have otherwise, when they were still called Swaziland until about a year ago. Which has nothing to do with this ceremony, but I'm just stating. 

 

Time for the French to arrive and boy, do they do it in style. All the athletes make a mad dash for the middle of the stadium, throw themselves on the ground and start piling on top of each other. Before you get alarmed, it was for a very quick group selfie. Nice touch. 

 

There is a sizeable Indian delegation here in Napoli, with 119 athletes of which 42 are participating in athletics alone.

 

Looking dapper and somewhat studious in their navy jackets, team India is led by flagbearer Dutee Chand, the current global poster girl for just about everything that is right in this world. Don't know? Look her up here.

 

We reach the letter 'M' and Mexico parades out with a pretty large delegation. 185 athletes to be exact. That's a large enough number to put them in the top ten largest delegations here, at No.10. Reminder that the largest delegation in Napoli, after host nation Italy, are Japan with 279 athletes. 

 

As we head into 'R', the music steps up a notch and we see a replendent figure in shiny silver take the stage. It is Carmen Pierri, a singer who was born in Salerno. She is only 16 years old but has sung in many shows and concerts. She was the winner of the Italian edition of 'The Voice'. 

Here comes another whopping, huge delegation. The United States of America, with its 273 athletes. The flag bearer is UCLA women's soccer player Ashley Sanchez. There is huge round of applause for them, for Uruguay that follows and also for Uzbekistan. The crowd is getting excited now. They know that we are nearing the end of the parade, which means it is almost time for the home team to step out. 

 

Finally! The massive Italian delegation steps out, with 300 plus athletes and the crowd goes positively bananas. Half the stadium is on their feet, thumping, clapping, cheering, yelling. The music also seems to have got a tad bit louder.  

 

Entrance of the Italian flag

Fireworks go off. Popular Italian singer-songwriter Malika Ayane announces the entry of the Italian flag with a musical tribute. The flag arrives, carried by the extraordinary Beatrice 'Bebe' Vio. Paralympic and World champion in individual foil fencing, Bebe is an icon in Italy. She has already qualified for Tokyo 2020 and is also a university student of course, which is why she's here - a real, shining example of the fact that you can do everything if you just have the will.

 

She is dressed in Giorgio Armani. That is not an irrelevant detail; Armani designed the outfit for Italian athletes at the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in London 2012 and Rio 2016 and the winter ones of Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018, and will also be an official outfitter of the Olympic Games of Tokyo 2020 and Milan-Cortina 2026. So there. There is a reason I mention that detail. 

A riot of colour, art, music, dance and acrobatics explode in the arena. The performers come from 40 different dance schools of the region. Actress Iaia Forte pays homage to ancient Neapolitan literature, reciting several passages in dramatic fashion. It is time for official speeches now and President of the Campania Region Vincenzo De Luca will initiate proceedings in this segment. He thanks everyone for being here and also says he hopes to see all the international spectators as tourists in the years to come. 

 

He is followed by FISU President Oleg Matytsin who strikes a chord with the locals by reminding them of how closely Italian sport is intertwined with university sport. 

 

"It is here, in Italy that the Universiade started 60 years ago," he announces. "It is from here that our movement started and then spread all around the world. It has become stronger because the lessons of sport have proven to be as powerful as anything we learn in the classroom."

 

He also has a message for the athletes. "Not all of you will finish with a medal," he says. "But please remember that one victory is available to all of you - the chance to leave Napoli as a better person." Thunderous applause from the crowd. 

 

IOC President Thomas Bach now has a video message for all. "Always compete with the Olympic spirit of friendship and respect," he says to the athletes. "Perhaps Napoli will be the beginning of your journey to the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020."

 

The President of Italy Sergio Mattarella comes up next and his speech is short and sweet: he declares the Universiade open! The FISU flag is now carried in with great pomp and splendor by eight very eminent sportspersons, academics and researchers. 

 

The games are open! 

As the flag is raised, the tempo goes up, with some more music and dance, leading into a video that retells the journey of the Universiade Flame from Turin to the San Paolo stadium. And on cue, the Torch arrives in the stadium for the last leg of its Relay. The big moment is coming up now. There's been a lot of mystery over the last few days about who is going to finally light the Universiade Cauldron. Time to find out.

 

Alex Meret, Napoli goalkeeper runs in and the crowd loves it. He is followed by Italian football mega-star Lorenzo Insigne, captain of Napoli and member of the national team. The welcome from the crowd is deafening.

 

Just as Insigne touches his foot to the ball that is placed in front of him, it bursts into flames and flies off towards the Mount Vesuvius. And thus, ladies and gentlemen, the Universiade Cauldron has been lit.

 

Ooh, there's still some 'special guest' the announcer tells us. An expectant silence is followed by the announcement of the arrival of one of Italy's biggest international celebrities - famed opera singer Andrea Bocelli. What. A. Voice. No wonder Celine Dion said "If God has a voice he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli".

 

Bocelli proceeds to enthrall the crowd with his melodious voice that resonates in the Stadio San Paolo even as the clock strikes midnight. The applause, when he concludes, goes on for minutes. Finally, all the cast of the entire Opening Ceremony enters the scene to wtiness the fireworks display that erupts in the sky, over the Napoli coastline. 

 

The artistic ceremony has concluded. It is time for the sports to begin! 

 

 

 

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