The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday with the Muslim nation facing criticism over its treatment of foreign workers, LGBT rights and social restrictions, hurting its reputation for delivering a smooth tournament.
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani arrived at the stadium next to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, to a roaring crowd, and took his seat with other Arab leaders ahead of the host nation facing Ecuador in Group A.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, speaking at the opening ceremony, said that the event gathered people of all nationalities and beliefs.
“From Qatar, from the Arab world, I welcome everyone to the World Cup 2022,” he said. “How lovely it is that people can celebrate their diversity by putting aside that which divides them and that which brings them together.”
The opening ceremony featured three camels, American actor Morgan Freeman and Qatari singer Fahad Al-Qubaisi performing a new tournament song titled Dreamers featuring singer Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the presidents of Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General, were among the leaders in the tent-shaped stadium ahead of the first match.
Qatar, which has denied allegations of worker abuse and discrimination, and FIFA hope the headlines will turn to on-pitch action. The organizers also denied allegations of bribery for the right to host. The tournament, the culmination of Qatar’s soft power push after a 3-1/2-year boycott by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, marked the first time it was held in the Middle East and the costliest in its history. In 2021.
The UAE, whose rapprochement with Doha has been slower than Riyadh and Cairo, sent its vice president who is also the ruler of Dubai, where many World Cup fans have chosen to live. 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, a tournament brokered by FIFA to carry both Palestinians and Israelis. Commenting on state media, the Gulf state’s deputy prime minister Khaled al-Attiyah said Qatar was reaping the benefits of “years of hard work and good planning”.
on Saturday, FIFA’s Infantino hits out at European critics of Qatar, saying that engagement was the only way to improve rights, while Doha also pointed to labor reforms. The team captains of Denmark and Germany will wear One Love armbands as they prepare to compete in a conservative Muslim state where same-sex relationships are illegal. Warning against public affection, the organizers say everyone is welcome.
Gas exporter Qatar is the smallest country to host football’s biggest global event. Crowd control will be crucial with around 1.2 million visitors expected – more than a third of its population.