The first important steps on the journey towards the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ took place as the opening press conference for the Russia 2018 Preliminary Draw Show was held on Wednesday at the cultural spectacle that is Konstantin Palace.
The evolution of the draw, procedure details and the concept of the Draw Show were explained and outlined to hundreds of journalists from all around the world.
The draw has evolved into a cultural showpiece over the years with the first event being televised in 1971. Since then, the Preliminary Draw has been held at a variety of impressive venues including Madison Square Garden in New York City and the Louvre Museum in Paris and St. Petersburg will certainly be carrying on the tradition of memorable draws.
"I think it's safe to say that we have a stunning setting here in St. Petersburg," said Paul Redman, Head of FIFA Films, noting that the TV feed will be available to 170 countries and territories. “We have a fantastic line-up of draw assistants; people who have been influential in World Cups, former internationals, current players, world champions."
Chris Unger, head of FIFA's World Cup Office, then guided the audience through the details of the draw procedure, and he also gave context to qualification history going into Saturday's Draw.
"This was the first time in history where all member associations registered to play in a FIFA World Cup," said Unger. "Of the 208 nations eligible to compete, except for Russia, who as hosts are automatically qualified, there are 183 that remain and of that number there will be 141 teams in the Preliminary Draw on Saturday. During the draw we will have six individual draws. They will not include Asia, but they will include the other five qualification zones and the intercontinental play-off draw"
It was not just about procedures and technical aspects however. The Preliminary Draw will also represent a first taste of Russian culture to football fans worldwide. A colourful ceremony is in store for television audiences across the planet tuning into the show. This artistic part is being produced by Russia's Channel One's general director Konstantin Ernst and general producer Alexander Faifman, with Feliks Mikhaylov directing.
“We put all our efforts to stage an excellent draw at Konstantin Palace, which celebrates its 300th anniversary this year. The concept is called ‘A Dream’, ‘The Dream starts here’. For Russia, it is a dream to host a World Cup and the Preliminary Draw marks the beginning of that dream,” said Natella Nikolau, Local Organising Committee’s Head of Ceremonies.
Conceived by director Mikhaylov, the performance will feature 350 artists and showcase the richness and diversity of Russia's culture for viewers, who will be able to appreciate musical improvisations based around the themes of football and sport. The show’s finale will grant one more surprise to the spectators – a performance by singer Polina Gagarina, who will be accompanied by a chorus of 209 children conducted by Valery Gergiev, director of the world-famous Mariinskiy Theater.
“Being the director of the World Cup Preliminary Draw Show is a wonderful moment in one's creative life; it's an opportunity to reach out and touch an event that millions of people around the world are eagerly anticipating,” said Mikhaylov. “We will show that Russia is a modern, stylish country with a good sense of humour, and that we’re glad to be welcoming guests to the world's biggest festival of football.”
“Above all I sought inspiration for the show from the emotions of football. We will try to convey that riot of emotion, colour and passion that is experienced in stadiums through a variety of theatre and musical genres – opera, jazz and folk music, mixed with hip-hop – all boasting an unrivalled level of performance and, of course, the meticulous detail worthy of a grand finale. The music will be quite diverse and will equal the emotions of the Final of a World Cup.”
Following the press conference the media was given an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the draw hall where the magic will happen on Saturday.
2018 FIFA World Cup Preliminary Draw
Natalia Vodianova, supermodel and philanthropist
Dmitry Shepelev, Channel One presenter
St. Petersburg Eifman Ballet (Sergey Volobuev & Nina Zmievetz)
Terem-Quartet (Supported by Leningrad Centre)