Jamaica Gleaner

Qatar opens World Cup with lavish half-hour ceremony


OSCAR-WINNING ACTOR Morgan Freeman extended one yellow-gloved hand to a FIFA World Cup ambassador suffering from a rare spinal disorder in an image meant to represent inclusion in a country facing internatio­nal criticism over its human rights record.

It wasn’t the biggest moment of yesterday’s seven-act World Cup opening ceremony ahead of the match between host country Qatar and Ecuador. The largest cheers were reserved for the Mideast and African leaders watching from their luxury suites in Bedouin-tent inspired Al Bayt Stadium.

In fact, it was Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani who drew a thunderous applause in a short speech delivered in Arabic from the suite.

“We have worked hard, along with many people, to make it one of the most successful tournament­s,” he said. “We have exerted all efforts and invested for the good of all humanity.”

He was seated 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.

“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,” Sheikh Tamim said, his words translated into English on a video screen inside the stadium.

“I wish all the participat­ing teams a magnificen­t football performanc­e, high sportsmans­hip, and a time full of joy, excitement, and delight for you all,” he continued. “And let there be days that are inspiring with goodness and hope.”

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 with humanity, respect, and inclusion.”

There were no major Western leaders in attendance as Qatar is under intense scrutiny for its treatment of the migrant workers who prepped the nation for the World Cup as well as the LGBTQ community. Gay and lesbian sex is criminalis­ed in Qatar.

But among those who did attend the opening match were UN Secretary-general António Guterres, Algerian President Abdelmadji­d Tebboune, Senegalese President Macky Sall, Palestinia­n President Mahmoud Abbas, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Infantino spoke in Arabic, Spanish, and finally English to officially open the tournament.

“Dear friends, welcome, welcome, to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” Infantino said in English. “Welcome to celebrate football because football unites the world. And now, let’s welcome the teams, and let the show begin.”

 ?? AP ?? Fireworks explode over the Al Bayt Stadium before the start of the World Cup Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador in Al Khor, Qatar yesterday.
AP Fireworks explode over the Al Bayt Stadium before the start of the World Cup Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador in Al Khor, Qatar yesterday.

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