Qatar’s ruler has opened the FIFA World Cup with a call for people of all races and orientations to put aside their differences, speaking as the host nation faced a barrage of criticism over its treatment of foreign workers, women and LGBTQI people.
- Jung Kook from BTS and actor Morgan Freeman were among the global superstars who performed at the opening ceremony
- In the UK, the BBC chose to air criticism of Qatar’s human rights record rather than the ceremony
- Fans in the stadium for the opening match said the air-conditioning kept conditions very cool
The Muslim Gulf nation is staking its reputation on delivering a smooth tournament and has denied accusations of abuse of workers and discrimination.
But UK broadcaster BBC chose to air criticism of the host nation’s human rights record rather than the opening ceremony.
“It’s the most controversial World Cup in history and a ball hasn’t even been kicked,” Match of the Day host Gary Lineker said on BBC One.
It started a broadcast of widespread criticism, including of the voting and bidding process that secured the hosting rights, and the carbon footprint of the tournament.
Meanwhile, back in Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani spoke to the crowd in a tent-shaped stadium.
“People of all races, nationalities, beliefs and orientations will gather here in Qatar and around screens across the continents to share in the exciting moments,” the emir said in the ceremony, during which he kissed the hand of his father, who abdicated in 2013.
“How lovely it is that people can put aside what divides them to celebrate their diversity and what brings them together at the same time.”
The emir arrived at Al Bayt stadium flanked by FIFA president Gianni Infantino and sat alongside other Arab leaders. No Western leaders attended.
A show featuring camels, American actor Morgan Freeman, Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS and Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi unfolded on the pitch. Fireworks lit the sky.
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and the presidents of Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, as well as the United Nations secretary-general, were among the leaders at the stadium, where Ecuador later scored a 2-0 victory over Qatar, the first World Cup hosts to lose their opening game.
‘It’s too cold’
Despite fears of desert heat melting fans and players alike, the first game, played in cooler night-time conditions, was a little chilly for those in the crowd.
Icy air blasted the more than 67,000 fans packing the Al Bayt Stadium in the coastal Qatari city of Al Khor, with the air-conditioned outdoor stadium leaving some fans wishing they had dressed warmer.
“Actually, it’s too cold,” said Faisal Rasheed, a 40-year-old Qatari fan who had come to see the host nation take on Ecuador after the seven-act opening ceremony.
Wearing a maroon sweatshirt in the colour of Qatar’s national flag and uniform, Rasheed said the air-conditioning was “working well” but wondered whether it was needed on the windy night, when the outside temperature peaked at 23 degrees Celsius.
Qatar spent billions building seven air-conditioned, open-air World Cup stadiums.
Organisers have trumpeted the technology behind the cooling systems in the long run-up to the tournament, repeatedly saying that temperatures in the stands and playing field will hover at about 20C, regardless of outside conditions.
The 974 Stadium in Doha is the only venue that will not be cooled, but it will only host night matches.
The Bedouin tent-shaped Al Bayt Stadium has a cooling station that sends chilled water to several air treatment units inside the venue. Some of the water used in the cooling process is recycled wastewater, stadium engineer Saud Ghani said.
Mario Sanchez, a 33-year-old US fan, said he had travelled to Qatar from Chicago to watch 28 of the tournament’s 64 matches.
“It actually feels kind of cold tonight, but that’s because it’s really windy,” Sanchez said.
He said the technology’s real test would likely come on Monday during the first day match, between England and Iran, at 4pm local time (11pm AEDT).
“We’ll see how that goes,” Sanchez said.