Oprah Winfrey remains one of the most famous people on the planet, with her celebrity interviews bringing in millions of viewers. As the organizers of the 1994 World Cup were looking for an emcee for the opening ceremony in the U.S., Winfrey was a perfect choice. Little did the talk show host know she would feel humiliated after a fall during the show broadcast to billions.
In 2017, Oprah stuck around after filming a show to answer questions from the studio audience. It was during this Q&A session that an audience member asked about her most embarrassing moment. Winfrey seemed more than willing to share the secret of her most embarrassing moment in front of billions of viewers. Oprah Winfrey immediately replied to the studio audience that her most embarrassing moment came at Chicago’s Soldier Field during the opening ceremony of the 1994 World Cup.
The decision to stage the World Cup in North America proved controversial among the traditional soccer-playing nations of the world. During negotiations regarding the right to host the World Cup, U.S. officials had to guarantee a men’s professional league would be established.
Staging the tournament in the U.S. led to much discussion about the stars who would grace the opening ceremony. Oprah had found fame in Chicago with a local talk show that was syndicated around the nation and sold to nations across the planet. Winfrey signed up to host the opening ceremony at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
1994 had been a strange year for sports and celebrities, with O.J. Simpson charged with double murder. Tonya Harding was charged for her role an attack on her ice-skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan. Concern was high in the buildup to the opening ceremony that U.S. sports fans would remain indifferent to the World Cup because of a lack of understanding of the game. USA 94 was later accused of being one of the most boring World Cup events because Argentina reached the final after scoring just five goals.
For Oprah Winfrey, the estimated global audience of 750 million TV viewers was not the scariest thought. In the buildup to the event, Winfrey rehearsed her role and warned the crew of the dangers the stage posed. The talk show host warned the stage was the same color as its covering. In rehearsals the day before the opening ceremony, Winfrey again warned the crew there was a trip hazard on the stage where a hole could not be seen when entering and exiting.
When Oprah Winfrey arrived on the day of the opening ceremony, she found the stage remained the same. Dressed in an all-white dress, Winfrey took to the stage for her big moment introducing Diana Ross to the world. Winfrey explained to a stunned studio audience in 2017 that her warnings about an invisible hole in the stage came back to haunt her as she made her exit. Oprah explained she has happy the cameras had turned to follow Diana Ross because she fell through the hole she had been vocal about before the event.
Oprah was eventually helped out of the hole by four security guards and continued with her emcee duties. The TV commentary from the event features comments about Winfrey’s torn dress and bleeding legs. Looking back at the event, Winfrey explains she was happy to make it out of the hole in time to thank Diana Ross and introduce the Parade of Nations. Infamously, Ross had just missed a staged penalty kick that took the attention away from Winfrey’s fall.
At least Oprah Winfrey can look back on the events of 1994 with humor. Her fellow performer at the opening ceremony, Jon Secada, was another victim of the infamous hole in the stage. Unfortunately, Secada was unable to remove himself from the hole and performed while trapped beneath the stage.