The Qatar World Cup has opened in spectacular fashion, with superstars including actor Morgan Freeman performing in a stunning Opening Ceremony.
The hosts play their first-ever World Cup game in the opening match of the tournament against Ecuador. But the party began early at the Al Bayt Stadium, with Jungkook of K-pop megastars BTS the headline musical performance, debuting his new single solo single “Dreamers” alongside Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi.
American actor Freeman was a shock appearance on stage alongside Qatari YouTube star Ghanim al-Muftah, who read from the Quran.
Freeman had been an ambassador for the USA’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup before Qatar won hosting rights, making his appearance even more of a surprise.
Freeman shared a message of unity, declaring: “What unites us here in this moment is so much greater than what divides us. How can we make it last longer than just today?”
Ghanim Al-Muftah, a Qatari activist for the disabled, born with the rare Caudal Regression Syndrome, appeared with Freeman and stated to the crowd: “Everyone is welcome”.
The show featured hundreds of dancers, while a giant version of official mascot La’eeb floated around the stadium. La’eeb means ‘super-skilled player’ in Arabic, and dates back to comics from the late 1940s.
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Qatar’s emir launched the 2022 World Cup on Sunday with a call for the tournament to be a forum for “civilised communication” after more than a decade of controversy.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani took centre stage after an elaborate display of dancing in a scene involving swirling desert sands, scimitar swords and 21st century pop stars, all taking place in a stadium styled on a Bedouin tent.
The emir did not mention the attacks made on his Gulf state’s rights record or corruption allegations.
“People of different races, nationalities, creeds and orientations will gather here in Qatar and around screens on all continents to share the same exciting moments,” he told the capacity 60,000 crowd.
With FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman watching on, he added: “We will follow with the whole world, God willing, the great football festival in this open space for human and civilized communication.” Qatar’s royal family and FIFA’s leaders are hoping that the spectacular ceremony and the start of the football will end the storm that erupted over the country’s World Cup preparations
1998 World Cup winner Marcel Desailly of France delivered the trophy in front of roaring fans, before fireworks lit up the sky.
BIG NAMES REFUSE TO PLAY
It came after several musicians made clear they will not perform, in protest at Doha’s human rights records, particularly with regard to LGBT rights.
Rod Stewart: The rock legend gave a definitive no to organisers.
Stewart told The Times that he was “offered a lot of money, over $1 million, to play there 15 months ago”, but that he turned them down.
“I refused. It’s not right to go,” the 77-year-old British singer said, adding that it was “respect for human rights in general” that had led to his decision.
Dua Lipa: The 27-year-old British star, who has a huge LGBT fanbase, had also been tipped for an appearance, but she shut down the rumours in a post to her 87 million Instagram followers.
“I will not be performing and have not been involved in any negotiations to perform in Qatar,” the “Levitating” singer wrote, adding that she would support England “from afar”.
“I look forward to visiting Qatar when it has fulfilled all the human rights pledges it made when it won the right to host,” she added.
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Shakira: Another name that had been slated to perform was Shakira, who has been a regular at previous World Cups while married to Spanish footballer Gerard Pique.
She was the voice of the 2010 edition in South Africa, alongside local group Freshlyground, for the official theme “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” and performed four years later in Brazil.
But her team recently told Spanish news outlets that she would no longer be performing in Qatar, without giving a specific reason.