World Cup opening ceremony: six things we learned in Qatar | World Cup 2022


World Cup opening ceremonies don’t carry quite the cultural heft of Olympic opening ceremonies. To make a truly memorable one you need to get Diana Ross to hopelessly miss a penalty or Robbie Williams to give the TV audience his middle finger. Many have interpreted Qatar hosting this World Cup as being about sportswashing their international image and no expense was spared on the 30-minute show that preceded the opening fixture between Qatar and Ecuador. Here is what we learned…

1) Qatar still trying to sell itself as inclusive

An opening video sequence saw a dream to kick progress from an infant in the womb to become a procession through the desert leading to the tent-shaped Al Bayt Stadium, via some space whales.

The organisers and Fifa have talked a lot about inclusivity – of the right kind of course – which was embodied in a sequence where Morgan Freeman and Ghanim al-Muftah spoke about overcoming differences. Al-Muftah is a Qatari who was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome which prevents the development of the lower spine, and he is a local social media personality.

US actor Morgan Freeman, left, sits on the stage at the opening ceremony with World Cup ambassador Ghanim al-Muftah.
US actor Morgan Freeman, left, sits on the stage at the opening ceremony with World Cup ambassador Ghanim al-Muftah. Photograph: Natacha Pisarenko/AP

2) Everybody got their own song

In a sequence where dancers seemed to be dressed as Imperial troops from Star Wars holding light sabres, drummers and singers ran through a greatest hits of football chants, and then every now and then the camera would switch to the crowd where, handily, it turned out that groups of fans from competing nations beyond Qatar and Ecuador were all seated together wearing their replica shirts to cheer along.

Which way to the death star?
Which way to the death star? Photograph: Natacha Pisarenko/AP

There were also giant walking replica shirts that looked like they had escaped from a vintage edition of Jeux sans frontières.

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3) Russia still made a mark, despite their ban

The Qatari organisers rolled back the years with the mascots of World Cups gone by, marking a welcome reappearance of Naranjito from Spain 1982 and Footix from France 1998. Perhaps less welcome was the appearance of Zabivaka, Russia’s mascot from the last tournament. Russia were expelled from World Cup qualifying following their invasion of Ukraine in February of this year.

Russia’s 2018 mascot was included in the line-up of mascots from times gone by, despite the country’s current Fifa ban.
Russia’s 2018 mascot was included in the line-up of mascots from times gone by, despite the country’s current Fifa ban. Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

The parade of old mascots marked the entrance of the 2022 World Cup mascot, La’eeb is meant to be based on a ghutra headdress, but more than one observer has noted that it looks like the risen spirit of the migrant workers who have died in the course of putting this tournament on.

A spectre looms over proceedings in Qatar.
A spectre looms over proceedings in Qatar. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

4) Jungkook of BTS has not started his military service yet

A surefire way to get an army of social media support for your opening ceremony is to include a K-Pop star, and Jungkook from BTS was on hand to sign his song Dreamers from the FIFA World Cup official soundtrack, a concept which would surely baffle Jules Rimet, founder of the whole World Cup caboodle back in the 1920s. After a long national debate, the seven members of BTS, one of the best-selling bands in the world, will shortly be putting their pop careers on pause to do military service in South Korea.

Jungkook of BTS performs during the opening ceremony.
Jungkook of BTS performs during the opening ceremony. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

5) Emir claimed World Cup would celebrate diversity

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was a popular figure with the crowd when he appeared, and he smiled broadly after there was a video montage sequence which showed him playing football as a young boy in the 1970s or 1980s.

Same-sex relationships are illegal in Qatar. Earlier this month, former Qatar international footballer and World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman said that homosexuality was “damage in the mind”.

Nevertheless al-Thani said the event gathered people of all nationalities and beliefs. “From Qatar, from the Arab world, I welcome everyone to the World Cup 2022. How lovely it is that people can put aside what divides them to celebrate their diversity and what brings them together all at once.”

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Fifa president Gianni Infantino greet the public.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Fifa president Gianni Infantino greet the public. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

6) Fifa president Gianni Infantino kept quiet – until the last moment

After Saturday’s bizarre nearly hour-long press conference where Infantino declared he felt gay, disabled and like a migrant worker, he had a much simpler message to deliver during the ceremony itself. Silence. He sat next to the Emir, but said nothing.

However, in an unusual move, long after the ceremony itself had finished, as Qatar and Ecuador assembled on the pitch, Fifa’s president – unscheduled – took the microphone to say: “football unites the world. And now let’s welcome the teams and let the show begin. All the best to everyone.”

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