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Qatar kicks off 2022 World Cup with inclusion announcement

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Al Khor, Qatar — Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman held out a yellow-gloved hand to the World Cup ambassador, who suffers from a rare spinal condition, in an image meant to represent joining a country facing international criticism over its human rights record.

It wasn’t the highlight of Sunday’s seven-act World Cup opening ceremony ahead of the match between host nation Qatar and Ecuador, which Ecuador won 2-0. The loudest cheers were reserved for the leaders of the Middle East and Africa, who watched from their luxury suites in the Bedouin tent-inspired Al Bait Stadium.

In fact, it was Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani who drew thunderous applause in a short speech in Arabic from the number. He sat between FIFA president Gianni Infantino and his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who secured the World Cup for the tiny Gulf nation 12 years ago.

Qatar v Ecuador: Group A - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
Fireworks explode during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar on November 20, 2022.

Getty Images


“How beautiful it is when people put aside what separates them to celebrate their diversity and what brings them together at the same time,” said Sheikh Tamim, his words translated into English on a video screen inside the stadium.

“I wish all the participating teams a wonderful football performance, high sportsmanship, as well as joy, excitement and enthusiasm,” he continued. “And let there be days that inspire goodness and hope.”

He then said, “Congratulations and good luck to everyone” in the only words spoken in English.

Sheikh Hamad, seen as Qatar’s modernizer during his 18 years in charge, further delighted the crowd by autographing an official World Cup shirt presented to him by his son. He then held the shirt up to the crowd.

Qatar, home to 3 million people, most of whom are migrant workers, has spent more than $200 billion preparing for the World Cup. Seven new stadiums were built, including the 60,000-seater Al Bait Stadium north of Doha.

The opening ceremony aimed to introduce Qatar to the world through its culture, with the theme of “transcending distances”. Creative director Ahmad Al Baker wanted the ceremony to mean “a gathering of all humanity, an invitation to come together as one, overcoming all differences with humanity, respect and integration.”

It came to a head when Sheikh Tamim was joined in the stadium room by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, two leaders who have boycotted Qatar for years. The leaders of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, two other countries participating in the boycott, were not present.

No major Western leaders attended as Qatar is under scrutiny over its treatment of migrant workers preparing the nation for the World Cup, as well as the LGBTQ community. Sex with gays and lesbians is criminalized in Qatar.

But among those who attended the opening match were UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Algerian President Abdelmajid Teboun, Senegalese President Macky Sall, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The Crown Prince of Kuwait, the Director General of the World Health Organization and the President of Djibouti arrived. King Abdullah II of Jordan was also present.

They listened to BTS’s Jungkook, while Qatari singer and producer Fahad Al Qubaisi debuted the single “Dreamers”, created especially for the World Cup.

Then came the words of Infantino, who spoke in Arabic, Spanish and finally English to officially open the tournament.

“Dear friends, welcome, welcome to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar,” Infantino said in English. “Welcome to the celebration of football, because football unites the world. Now let’s welcome the teams and start the show.”

As Tiesto’s ‘The Business’ blared over the speakers, Qatar and Ecuador took to the pitch and the FIFA World Cup had officially begun.

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