Yesterday’s seven-act World Cup opening ceremony featured several important moments. The ceremony took place just before the match between host country Qatar and Ecuador. The half-hour show included sword-spinning dancers, soldiers on camels, celebrities, and royals. But instead of uniting people and countries, the tournament may turn out to be the most controversial World Cup ever.
Veteran actor Morgan Freeman appeared with official World Cup ambassador Ghanim al-Muftah. Freeman declared, “On this journey, east and west will come together with one goal.”
Some analysts took Freeman’s statement to mean that the Arab world and football will ease the world’s problems. Christians know that only Jesus Christ is the ultimate cure for the human condition. (John 14:6)
The opening ceremony crowd cheered loudly. Mideast and African leaders watched from luxury suites in Al Bayt Stadium. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, drew thunderous applause in the short speech he delivered in Arabic from his suite.
“We have worked hard, along with many people, to make it one of the most successful tournaments,” Sheikh Tamim said. “We have exerted all efforts and invested for the good of all humanity.”
Tamim sat between his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and FIFA president Gianni Infantino. The elder sheikh secured the World Cup for the tiny gulf nation 12 years ago.
“How beautiful it is for people to put aside what divides them in order to celebrate their diversity and what brings them together at the same time,” Tamim said. A giant video screen inside the stadium translated his words into English. “I wish all the participating teams a magnificent football performance, high sportsmanship, and a time full of joy, excitement, and delight for you all.”
Many people see Sheikh Hamad as the modernizer of Qatar during his 18 years as ruler. He delighted the crowd by autographing an official World Cup shirt handed to him by his son.
Qatar is home to three million people. That’s about one-third of the population of New York City. Most of them are migrant workers. The country spent more than $200 billion preparing for the World Cup event. Workers built seven new stadiums, including the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium north of the capital of Doha. The Guardian estimates that about 6,500 people died during construction.
The opening ceremony was meant to introduce Qatar to the world through its culture with a theme of “bridging distances.” Creative director Ahmad Al Baker wanted the ceremony to signify “a gathering for all mankind, an invitation to come together as one, bridging all differences.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi joined Tamim in the stadium suite. Those two leaders had boycotted Qatar for years. However, the leaders of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates were absent. Those nations were also involved in the boycott.
For all the talk of unity and bridges, many view the Qatar event as highly controversial. After all, Qatar’s human rights record is abysmal. However, after World Cups in war-mongering Russia and corrupt Brazil, debate is hardly a first for the event.
FIFA President Infantino spoke in Arabic, Spanish, and finally English to officially open the tournament. “Dear friends, welcome, welcome, to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” he said. “Welcome to celebrate football because football unites the world. And now let’s welcome the teams and let the show begin.”
More than 67,000 mostly Qatari fans filled the huge Al Bayt Stadium.
The night ended with Qatar’s overmatched team trudging off the field. Many dismayed fans had already disappeared. A 2-0 loss to Ecuador earned Qatar an unwanted place in soccer history. The host team is the first ever to lose an opening game.
(A giant inflatable copy of the trophy is displayed prior to the start of the World Cup group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador. The match took place at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, on November 20, 2022. AP/Darko Bandic)