From start to almost finish, the opening ceremony of the controversial 2022 World Cup in Qatar was all about Morgan Freeman today, plus some BTS
“From this land, we heard a call to the world to connect, to return if only for a moment to that which can bring us together,” said the distinctive authoritative voice of the Oscar winning actor over a video of desert and ocean scenes kicking off the event. Today was “really the first true opening ceremony at a World Cup, definitely has an Olympic type feel to it,” said Fox Sports’ energetic Rob Stone earlier.
Stone wasn’t wrong, but there was a lot of mixed messages in play too.
“So, we gather here as one big tribe, and Earth is the tent we live in,” intoned a lip-syncing and solemn Freeman on the field of Al Bayt Stadium in the opening minutes of the extravagant opening ceremony.
There was no small irony in the fact that Freeman was such a big part of the United States’ bid for the 2022 World Cup back in 2010. The Shawshank Redemption star was the voice and face of America’s final and ultimately failed pitch in front of FIFA brass for the tournament in Zurich in 2010 — but that’s all in the distant past now obviously.
However, besides Freedman, the real star of the nearly hour-long ceremony had to be BTS’ Jung Kook laying down his new tune “Dreamers” for the 60,000-capacity stadium. Surrounded by dancers, the international superstar and South Korean supporter set the standard for World Cup opening ceremonies to come. Simultaneously, unlike the much more restrained opener 2018 in Russia, where Robbie Williams raised a certain middle finger to the cameras, there was nothing not going according to script in today’s fast paced and often fawning ceremony.
As 2022 mascot Le’eeb flew around, camels, Bedu, dancers, drums, on field and in the stands graphics, flags galore, and more transformed the newly minted arena into a swirling spectacle. It was a pageant intended to display host Qatar’s best face to the globe after calls of human rights violations, discrimination against the LGBTQ community, and beer bans abound. “With tolerance and respect, we can live together,” said one performer addressing the elephant in the tournament without ever actually mentioning it. On Fox Sports they added a chorus of the “beautiful message” to all, though there was scant mention of any of the critics of Qatar, its policies and its tenebrous acquiring of this year’s World Cup.
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Over in the UK, World Cup network BBC One did not show the opening ceremony, instead airing debates and news broadcasts. Popular BBC viral video journalist Ros Atkin provided an explainer on the human and environmental costs of hosting the event in Qatar. Pundit panel discussion including Alan Shearer and Alex Scott explored on the moral ambiguities and lead presenter and England legend Gary Lineker conducted an interview with BBC journalist and Middle East expert Jeremy Bowen before the focus switched back to the soccer itself.
BBC One had only joined the coverage at 3pm local British time, about 30 minutes after the ceremony began, as it was running a Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur Women’s Super League game. The ceremony did run on BBC iPlayer, online and via the BBC’s red button services.
Another thread from the UK saw comedian and presenter Joe Lycett appear to follow through on his threat to shred £10,000 ($11,800) should David Beckham not leave his contentious and very well compensated role as an ambassador of the Qatar World Cup. Lycett posted a video of himself, dressed in a rainbow-colored poncho-type top and ear defenders, silently taking what appears to be bundles of cash and dropping them in an industrial shredder before curtseying and leaving the shot.
The move was designed to shed light on Beckham’s relationship with the World Cup organizers. Though the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy star is usually considered a strong advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, he took on a lucrative ambassador role for the tournament — a move that has upset many due to Qatar’s hard-line position on homsexuality. Whether Lycett truly shredded real cash or used fake notes is of interest, as destroying money in a week the UK announced it is officially set to enter a recession may cause its own debate away from Qatar.
Oddly, with Qatar about to make its World Cup debut against Ecuador this morning, there wasn’t a lot of football in the opening ceremony besides a reference to the “beautiful game” by Freeman, a few throwback videos and mascots in this year’s opener, and The Black Eyed Peas did not show up as rumored. Yet, there was a Grammy spanning line-up of Lebanese singer Myriam Fares, who sings the official FIFA fan festival anthem “Tukoh Taka” along with Nicki Minaj and Maluma, in addition to Bollywood’s Nora Fatehi live on the field.
All heading toward the final on December 18 at 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT at Lusail Stadium, the 32-team tournament includes current champs France’s Les Blues, as well as current world top team Brazil, which has five World Cup victories the most in history. With baking heat outside, Team USA makes its Group B premiere for this World Cup against Wales on Fox at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT on November 21.
So, once World Cup is all over and done, the ball is in your net for 2026, USA, Canada and Mexico.