The 2022 Qatar World Cup kicked off this evening with what was to be a spectacular opening ceremony without a hitch, in front of a packed stadium of fans.
But things got off to a precarious start on Sunday as the hosts lost their opening match, thousands of seats remained empty and rows continued over various controversies which emerged ahead of the start of the ‘most controversial’ tournament ever.
Disgraced actor Morgan Freeman performed in the ceremony in front of thousands of empty seats, which was not shown in the UK as the BBC chose to show a report about the country’s human rights record instead, raising accusations of hypocrisy.
The World Cup, which has been plagued with controversy over the Middle Eastern country’s treatment of foreign workers, LGBT+ rights and social restrictions, has been seen by Qataris as a way of varnishing its image on the world stage.
It has denied accusations of abuse of workers and discrimination, but that did not stop the BBC’s coverage, fronted by Gary Lineker, including a pre-packaged report on Qatar’s questionable human rights record and the controversy surrounding the tournament, instead of showing the opening ceremony.
It follows accusations over fake ‘fans’ being hired by the Qatari regime in order to hype up crowds by supporting various nations, which the country strongly denies.
In an embarrassing moment for FIFA organisers they were forced to allow a ban on alcohol sales at games after the Qatari royal family put pressure on the body due to the country’s strict ban on drinking in public. FIFA had previously charged Budweiser a reported £63 million for a sponsorship deal giving them a beer monopoly on the tournament – but much of this could now go to waste due to the last-minute rule change.
It came just 48 hours before the start of the tournament and left fans livid, accusing the host nation of ‘ruining’ the world cup before it had even begun. Fans can only purchase alcohol in select hotels and bars of the FIFA fan zone, but here can only purchase four pints for a costly £12.50 each.
On Saturday the shaky start to the tournament was precluded by FIFA boss Gianni Infantino giving a rambling and bizarre press conference in which he condemned critics of the host nation.
He claimed that he felt like a ‘woman’, a ‘migrant worker’, ‘gay’, a ‘Qatari’, an ‘Asian’ and various other identities, which sparked furious reaction online given the focus on the rights of women and minority groups in the country.
Meanwhile tonight’s ceremony saw fierce backlash online due to the involvement of Freeman, who eight separate actors and eight witnesses have accused of sexual harassment and misconduct on set.
Rows of empty seats were visible behind Morgan Freeman as he narrates the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Qatar
There were scores of empty seats in the stadium during the opening ceremony of FIFA World Cup ahead of the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador
Many seats behind the camera could be seen lying empty as the opening ceremony featuring Morgan Freeman took place
Former England captain David Beckham, who has come under criticism for his role as an ambassador for Qatar, was pictured in one of the executive boxes at the stadium tonight
Disgraced actor Morgan Freeman (left) performed the opening segment with World Cup ambassador and Qatari citizen Ghanim al-Muftah (right)
Aritsts perform during the opening ceremony before the World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar
Morgan Freeman and Ghanim al Muftah during the opening ceremony. Supporters have now arrived at the Al Bayt stadium for this afternoon’s opening match under a glaring sun in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees celsius
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani waves to the crowd as he arrives with FIFA President Gianni Infantino for the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor
Morgan Freeman at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Opening Ceremony Qatar v Ecuador
General view of the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 group A Opening Match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, 20 November
FIFA president Gianni Infantino (centre) was seen shaking the hand of Qatar’s former Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (left) at the stadium this evening
Fans drink beer during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar Fan Festival at Al Bidda Park on November 20
South Korean singer Jung Kook performs during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) chats with President of FIFA Gianni Infantino (L) at a reception hosted by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for the opening ceremony of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar on November 20
Supporters watch the opening ceremony of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor
Performers perform during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20
A drummer performs during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20
Jung Kook of BTS performs during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Three Camels, together with their handlers during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor. Picture date: Sunday November 20, 2022
David Beckham looks on from an executive box Qatar v Ecuador, FIFA World Cup 2022, Group A, Football, Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, Qatar
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20
Former Argentina and World Cup winner Diego Maradona is seen on the big screen during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20
There were also empty seats between fans in the stadium during the opening match of tournament between Qatar and Ecuador
Empty seats are seen in the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, during the opening match of the FIFA World Cup this evening
Ecuador fans in the Al Bayt stadium celebrate as their team takes the lead against Qatar in the opening match of the FIFA World Cup this evening
Qatar fans were seen walking up the stairs to leave the Al Bayt stadium while the match was still taking place after Ecuador took a two goal lead
Rows of empty seats were seen in the stands before the final whistle during the opening match between Ecuador and Qatar tonight
A man sat in the midst of rows of empty seats reacts during the opening fixture of the FIFA World Cup tonight
Qatari YouTuber Ghanim Al Muftah stars in World Cup opening ceremony
World Cup Ambassador Ghanim grew up playing football with gloves or shoes on his hands
By James Reynolds For MailOnline
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.’
Mr Al Muftah is known for his philanthropy, having set up the Association of Ghanim with help from his family.
The association donates wheelchairs to the people in need.
Empty seats were clearly visible in the background of the ceremony, and while these appeared to have filled with fans by the time of kick-off at 7pm local time, they emptied again before the final whistle.
Qatar was soundly beaten by a comfortable Ecuador in the opening match of the tournament, which the hosts demanded take place today after it had been previously scheduled to take place on Monday.
Losing 2-0, organisers were left red-faced as thousands of spectators departed while the game was still taking place in full view of the cameras. In a historic match, it is the first time the host nation has lost its opening game in any World Cup to date.
In the stands VIPs including former England star David Beckham, FIFA president Gianni Infantino and world leaders such as Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan cosied up to each other and members of the Qatari royal family.
Anger wasn’t just directed towards the hosts – the BBC also came under fire in a tense opening day after Gary Lineker and fellow pundits Alex Scott and Alan Shearer chose to address the human rights abuses at the top of their programme.
Lineker said: ‘It’s the most controversial World Cup in recent history and a ball hasn’t even been kicked.
‘Ever since FIFA chose Qatar back in 2010, the smallest nation to host football’s greatest competition has faced some big questions.
‘From accusations of corruption in the bidding process to the treatment of migrant workers who’ve built the stadiums where many lost their lives. Homosexuality is illegal here and women’s rights are also in the spotlight. Also the decision to switch the tournament from summer to winter.
‘Against that back drop, there is a tournament to be played here that will be watched and enjoyed around the world. Stick to football say FIFA, well we will for a couple of minutes at least.’
Morgan Freeman kicked off the World Cup opening ceremony in Qatar today in front of the country’s royals and rows of empty seats following weeks of criticism over the country’s human rights record.
The actor, 85, who four years ago apologised following accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, today narrated the event’s opening segment titled ‘The Calling’, telling viewers ‘We all gather here in one big tribe’ as fans descended on Doha city centre for the imminent kick off of the world’s greatest football festival.
Freeman spoke with 20-year-old Qatari entrepreneur and influencer Ghanim al Muftah – a FIFA World Cup Ambassador who was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, a rare disorder which impairs the development of the lower spine – who said to the actor: ‘Come on over.’
When Freeman replied ‘I’m not sure, Am I welcome?’, al Muftah said: ‘We sent out the call because everyone is welcome. This is an invitation to the whole world.’
Freeman replied: ‘I remember, even after hearing the call, instead of seeing another way, we dismissed it and demanded our own way. And 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?’
His appearance comes four years after he was accused of sexual misconduct by eight women and issued an apology to ‘anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected’ by his behaviour, saying it was ‘never my intent’.
Sixteen people – eight witnesses and eight who claimed to be victims – had come forward to allege the actor engaged in ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and ‘harassment’ as they worked alongside him.
Football fans have reacted with fury on social media at the actor’s appearance in the ceremony, with one calling it ‘disappointing’ and another saying: ‘When you have to act out a scene with Morgan Freeman ”welcoming the entire world” to your country for a soccer tournament, maybe you shouldn’t host the World Cup.’
The opening ceremony featured scenes titled ‘Leta’Arafo (To Know One Another)’, followed by ‘Chants of Nations’, a World Cup Medley, a showcase of the official mascots and Jung Kook of South Korean boy band BTS.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani arrived at the stadium flanked by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, to a roaring crowd, and took their seats alongside other Arab leaders.
A show then unfolded on the pitch, featuring three camels, American actor Morgan Freeman and a performance of a new tournament song called Dreamers featuring singer Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS, alongside Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and the presidents of Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General, are among leaders at the in a tent-shaped stadium ahead of the first match between the hosts and Ecuador.
Qatar, which has denied accusations of abuse of workers and discrimination, and FIFA hope the spotlight will now turn to action on the pitch. Organisers have also denied allegations of bribery for hosting rights.
Inside Al Bayt Stadium many seats were still vacant with gridlock on the expressway leading to the arena, where cheers went up as Qatar’s team appeared for their opening match.
The soccer tournament, the first held in the Middle East and the most expensive in its history, is a culmination of Qatar’s soft power push, after a 3-1/2 year boycott by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain which ended in 2021.
The UAE, whose rapprochement with Doha has been slower than that of Riyadh and Cairo, sent its vice president who is also ruler of Dubai, where many World Cup fans have opted to stay.
For the first time, a direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Doha landed in Qatar on Sunday despite the absence of formal bilateral ties, in a deal brokered by FIFA to carry both Palestinians and Israelis to the tournament.
The Gulf state’s Deputy Prime Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah, in remarks on state media, said Qatar was reaping benefits of years of ‘hard work and sound planning’.
On Saturday, FIFA’s Infantino rounded on European critics of Qatar, saying engagement was the only way to improve rights, while Doha has also pointed to labour reforms.
Denmark’s and Germany’s team captains will wear One Love armbands as they prepare to compete in a conservative Muslim state where same-sex relations are illegal. Organisers say all are welcome while warning against public affection.
Supporters today arrived at the Al Bayt stadium for this afternoon’s opening match under a glaring sun in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees celsius.
The vice president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who is also Dubai’s ruler, arrived in Qatar for the World Cup opening on Sunday, Qatar’s news agency said.
And Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince and a delegation of ministers arrived in the neighbouring country this morning to attend the opening ceremony, Saudi state media reported.
Mohammed bin Salman was accompanied by the kingdom’s energy, interior, foreign, commerce and investment ministers as well as senior officials including his national security adviser and head of the National Guard, the official Saudi Press Agency said.
Qatari fans in crisp white thobes and women in black shayla headdresses and abayhas were seen filing into the stadium, which has been designed to look like the tents used by nomads.
They were accompanied by Ecuador fans, many of whom donned extravagant headdresses, balaclavas and masks and carried their national flags.
The atmosphere appeared friendly, with both sets of fans stopping to snap photos together outside the stadium’s entry gates.
Artists perform prior the start of the World Cup group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Sunday
James Cleverly, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs is pictured during the FIFA World Cup Group A match at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Singer Jung Kook of South Korea performs during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar
Aritsts perform during the opening ceremony before the World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar, Sunday
Artists performs during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar
A giant World Cup Trophy during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
A photo shows a fireworks display during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20
People gather to watch a live broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament, at the Corniche of Doha on November 20, 2022
Qatari singer Dana al-Fardan (C) performs during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20, 2022
Former France International Marcel Desailly with the World Cup trophy ahead of the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium
Supporters of Qatar prior the FIFA World Cup 2022 group A Opening Match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, 20 November
Supporters cheer ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on November 20
Qatar fans take their seats before kick-off Qatar v Ecuador, FIFA World Cup 2022, Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, Qatar
Qatar and Ecuador fans are seen posing for pictures outside the Al Bayt stadium ahead of the World Cup’s opening match tonight
Amiri Guards wearing assault rifles are seen outside the stadium prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador
Ecuador fans are seen outside the Al Bayt stadium before the match against hosts Qatar which kicked off at 4pm
Qatar supporters roller blade along the road outside the Al Bayt stadium waving national flags ahead of tonight’s opening match
Performers outside the stadium ahead of the FIFA World Cup Group A match at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Fans of Ecuador pose for a picture as they arrive at Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on November 20, 2022, before the kick-off match of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament between Qatar and Ecuador
Qatar’s supporters wave a flag as they arrive at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor
Fans of Ecuador pose for a picture as they arrive at Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on November 20, 2022, before the kick-off match of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament between Qatar and Ecuador
Fans of Ecuador queue to get into the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha
Supporters pose for selfies inside the Al Bayt stadium ahead of the opening ceremony
Fans of Canada pose for a picture with fans of Qatar as they arrive at Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on November 20, 2022
Many of the labourers who toiled to build the eight stadiums will have watched from the sidelines, unable to afford the highest ticket prices ever for a World Cup despite working tirelessly to fulfil a brutal schedule which saw many of their colleagues perish.
But a lucky few were said to be sprinkled among the well-heeled audience having been gifted tickets by the England football team.
The controversy that has long surrounded the decision to award the tiny Gulf state the World Cup has built to a crescendo ahead of the tournament, with unrelenting scrutiny of its treatment of migrant workers and the LGBT+ community.
‘We are ready,’ Qatar supporter Hakeem Ahmad told Reuters as he entered the stadium with his wife and two children.
‘Whatever happens on the pitch, the world should look kindly on us today.
‘We have organised this party for you. If Qatar can perform well, that would be a bonus for us.
‘We hope that after today people will see Qatar in a different light, for who we really are. It is time to talk positively about Qatar.’
Cathal Kelly, columnist for Canada’s national newspaper the Globe and Mail, summed up the distractions.
‘Once the first ball is kicked, no one cares if they’re holding this thing on a ceremonial burial ground or powering it with coal,’ he wrote.
Qatar fans wave flags and pose for photos outside of tonight’s opening match
Portugal supporters are pictured in Qatar ahead of the opening ceremony
Cameroon fans cheer on the metro in Doha on November 20, 2022 ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament
Fans of the US (L) and Wales (R) gather at the traditional market Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar, 20 November 2022. The USA will face Wales in their FIFA World Cup 2022 group B match on 21 November
Ecuador’s supporters wave a flag as they arrive at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on November 20, 2022, before the kick-off match of the Qatar 2022 World Cup
Fans of Spain gather at the traditional market Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar, 20 November 2022. Spain will face Costa Rica in their FIFA World Cup 2022 group E match on 23 November
That will certainly be the hope of football’s governing body FIFA and Qatari organisers who have pleaded for critics to focus on the football and not let the sport be dragged into ideological or political battles.
‘This is the first time I’ve come to a World Cup,’ Wilmer Saltos, 35, a farmer, who has travelled from Guayaquil on the coast of Ecuador with his brother and sister told Reuters while waiting in the heat to enter the stadium.
‘When we saw that Ecuador was opening the tournament, we thought we just had to be here. There are obviously big cultural differences, you can’t deny it.
‘But for us, today is about the football, we just want to focus on the game.’
While Qatar is hosting one of sport’s biggest parties it will be a mostly alcohol free after officials decided to turn off the beer taps inside stadiums, drawing even more criticism.
Qatar is a typically teetotal nation where tourists can only buy or consume alcohol inside licensed hotels or restaurants.
Exemptions for the World Cup previously meant meant fans were able to buy beers in special ‘fan zones’ or on stadium concourses.
But Qatar reneged on part of that deal, meaning beer can now only be sold only inside the ‘fan zones’ and will not be available in the stadiums.
Pints will cost £12, only be available at certain times, and each person will be limited to a maximum of four to stop them getting drunk.
Beer or no beer, Qataris and thousands of visiting fans have arrived ready to party with throngs packing the FIFA Fan Festival zones in central Doha along the city’s famed Corniche.