Morgan Freeman has incurred harsh criticism after hosting the opening ceremony of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar amid concerns over the nation’s human rights record.
The tournament, whose opening ceremony yesterday featured a rousing monologue from Freeman, has been plagued with controversy over the Gulf state’s treatment of foreign workers, LGBT+ rights and social restrictions.
Yet Freeman accepted despite already having a net worth estimated to be in the hundreds of millions – and in doing so drew ire from furious commentators who accused him of hypocrisy.
The internationally acclaimed actor has been an outspoken civil rights activist in the US, having lent his voice to campaigns supporting gay marriage and launched charities to promote equality in early childhood education, among others.
This led scores of social media users to question why Freeman – who once portrayed anti-apartheid activist and champion of equality Nelson Mandela – agreed to associate himself with a tournament hosted in a nation where homosexuality remains a crime punishable with several years in prison.
‘For a man who played Nelson Mandela… it is so disappointing to see #MorganFreeman take the money and support an oppressive regime,’ one commentator wrote on Twitter.
‘Morgan Freeman. Just why? Why would you take the money… Already have more than you can spend… Just damages his legacy,’ another said.
Others however said they admired the message conveyed by Freeman who spoke of unity and tolerance in his speech, praising his efforts to focus on bringing people together across cultures rather than focusing on the differences.
‘Now the world feels even more distant and divided. How can so many countries, languages, and cultures come together if only one way is accepted?
‘What unites us here in this moment is so much greater than what divides us,’ he said.
‘Everyone is welcome.’
Morgan Freeman performs during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar
US actor Morgan Freeman (L) and Qatari YouTuber Ghanim al-Muftah speak during the opening ceremony of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group
Commentators voiced their displeasure with Freeman on social media, questioning why he would accept what is likely a huge sum of cash to perform at the Qatar World Cup opening ceremony
Morgan Freeman fronted the start of the World Cup opening ceremony in Qatar on Sunday
Qatari YouTuber Ghanim Al Muftah born without the lower half of his body stars in World Cup opening ceremony alongside Morgan Freeman
Qatari YouTuber Ghanim Al Muftah, 20, starred alongside Morgan Freeman in the World Cup opening ceremony.
Al Muftah is known for his motivational speeches and social media presence, featuring on TEDxQatarUniversity in 2018, aged 16, to talk about his condition, caudal regression syndrome.
Caudal regression syndrome (CRS) affects the development of the lower half of the body, which can include the spine, limbs, bladder, bowels and gut.
The bones in the lower spine can be abnormal or missing, with spinal abnormalities often also affecting the chest, which makes breathing difficult.
Qatar-born Mr Al Muftah was chosen as one of the official FIFA World Cup Ambassadors this year.
In a statement, the Loughborough University politics student said: ‘Within my capacities as a [Fifa World Cup] ambassador, I want to send a message of hope, inclusivity, peace, and unity for humanity.’
Freeman’s surprise appearance in Doha came 12 years after he fluffed his lines while attempting to help the USA’s bid to host the 2022 tournament.
On social media, fans called him a ‘Qatari sleeper agent’, reminiscing on his infamous speech in 2010, where he caused huge embarrassment for the USA’s bid team by messing up his speech and telling the crowd: ‘I’m sorry, I missed a page’.
Social media users railed at the star’s decision to accept what is likely a large sum of cash in exchange for the performance.
One declared: ‘Money talks’, while another said: ‘Sportswashing runs deep.’
One user added: ‘@morganfreeman very disappointed, some people will do anything for money.’
Another posted: ‘Morgan Freeman should be ashamed. How much they pay you? How much is your integrity? Never rise your voice to talk about of minorities. You just lost that privilege.’
Stronger comments saw Freeman accused of accepting ‘blood money’ and labelled him a ‘sellout’.
Freeman’s attempt to help the USA win 2022 World Cup hosting rights over Qatar i 2010 saw him travel to Zurich as part of the US bid team alongside the likes of former President Bill Clinton.
But his performance was lackluster and midway through he tripped over his lines, ruining the US’ claim to hosting rights.
Writing on Twitter, Men In Blazers presenter Roger Bennett said Freeman’s appearance in Qatar was ‘epic trolling on a global scale’.
It is as yet unknown how much money Freeman was paid to play his role in the opening ceremony.
DailyMail.com has contacted representatives of Freeman for comment.
He appeared in a segment titled ‘The Calling’, telling fans: ‘We all gather here in one big tribe’
Plenty of social media users took umbrage with Freeman’s decision to perform at the opening ceremony in Qatar
Back in 2010, Freeman messed up his speech in Zurich while trying to help the USA’s bid
Fans labelled the Oscar-winning actor a ‘sellout’ after he turned up in Qatar on Sunday
David Beckham also incurred criticism after he was pictured in attendance at the opening game of the World Cup amid controversy surrounding his reported £10 million promotional deal with the tournament’s organizers.
The former England captain was pictured in the stands watching on during the tournament’s opening ceremony at the Al Bayt stadium in the Qatari capital.
Beckham’s attendance came as comedian Joe Lycett livestreamed himself ‘shredding £10,000’ destined for charity after the footballer failed to pull out of his lucrative World Cup promotional deal.
Mr Lycett, 34, has openly spoken about being queer and advocated for LGBTQ+ rights.
The comic issued an ultimatum to Beckham after it was reported he had signed a £10 million deal with the FIFA World Cup hosts despite the nation’s highly questionably human rights record.
Homosexuality remains illegal in the Gulf state and anyone found participating in same-sex sexual activity can be punished with up to seven years in prison.
Qatar ambassador, David Beckham ahead of the FIFA World Cup Group A match at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
David Beckham looks on from an executive box Qatar v Ecuador, FIFA World Cup 2022, Group A, Football, Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, Qatar – 20 Nov 2022
Becks’ attended the opening match in Doha despite controversy surrounding his reported £10 million promotional deal with the tournament’s organisers
The livestream, which was broadcast on a website set up by Mr Lycett called benderslikeBeckham, showed a woodchipper in the background with what appeared to be two stacks of cash in front of it.
A seemingly solemn Mr Lycett then walked into shot wearing a fluffy rainbow jacket and put each wad into the shredder, before posing in front of the camera and walking out of frame.
He shared the video of the livestream on Twitter afterwards with the caption ‘A platform for progress’.
Birmingham-born comedian Mr Lycett unveiled the deadline last week in a video message posted on social media in which he offered to donate £10,000 of his own money to LGBTQ+ charities if Beckham ended the sponsorship before the tournament started.
Mr Lycett said that although Beckham has previously been a vocal supporter of gay rights, he has signed a reported £10 million deal with ‘one of the worst places in the world to be gay.’