Baku pays nearly $100 million for Games opening ceremony

BAKU (Reuters) - Friday’s opening ceremony for the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, cost a staggering $95 million (61 million pounds), officials said on Saturday, making it more expensive than most Olympic Games curtain-raisers.

Artists perform on stage during the opening ceremony of the 1st European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, June 12 , 2015. REUTERS/ Kai Pfaffenbach

The two-hour long ceremony at Baku’s Olympic stadium deployed about 2,000 volunteer cast members and 350 production staff but was far smaller in size, personnel and duration than the gigantic Olympic productions at summer Games.

The most recent opening ceremony at the London 2012 Games cost $42 million and had about 10,000 cast members, 12,956 props and a four-hour duration.

The far bigger Olympics host a total of about 10,500 world-class athletes from more than 200 nations while these European Games have 6,000 athletes from 50 European countries.

“There are some invoices still to be paid, but the cost will be about 100 million manat ($95 million),” Sports Minister Azad Rahimov told reporters when asked about the cost of the extravaganza that included a one-song appearance by pop star and six-times Grammy award winner Lady Gaga.

“All the efforts which were made over the last two years have yielded good results. There has been a very positive impression in general and we are very glad,” he said.

Azerbaijan said it has spent more than a billion dollars on the June 12-28 event which it hopes will firmly place the country on the global sports map.

Critics have accused the energy-rich nation on the shores of the Caspian sea of suppressing opposition groups and cracking down on dissidents while using the European Games as a tool to promote the country as an ideal host for major sports events.

The Azeri government, which has banned some reporters and human rights groups from entering the country for the Games, has not released a complete budget.

Organisers built several stunning state-of-the-art stadiums from scratch, constructing a massive athletes’ village and using a vast fleet of vehicles on designated Olympic lanes in the capital.

The event, however, has failed to attract top athletes of popular sports such as athletics and swimming, seeing only lower-ranked or junior athletes taking part in those sports. The Olympic stadium will be used for just two days of competitions.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony is considered to be the most expensive event of its kind, although official figures have never been released.

Editing by Ed Osmond