Al KHOR — Qatar’s Bedouin roots, embodied in a tent-shaped stadium, were on display on Sunday as the country’s emir opened the World Cup at a ceremony during which he kissed his father’s hand and welcomed the world to soccer’s biggest event, the first time it has been staged in the Middle East.
“From Qatar, from the Arab world, I welcome everyone to the World Cup 2022,” Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said. “How lovely it is that people can put aside what divides them to celebrate their diversity and what brings them together.”
Then, fireworks exploded from the roof of Al Bayt stadium, 44 km (27 miles) north of the capital, Doha.
Earlier, the nearly full stadium erupted in cheers when Sheikh Tamim arrived at the stadium flanked by FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
Tamim waved to the crowd and leaned down to kiss the hand of his father, former ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who abdicated in 2013, making way for his son.
Then the lights dimmed and three camels, dancers and a Qatari singer called “Dana,” who wore a traditional batola, a leather face-covering worn by some women in the Gulf region, filed onto the pitch.
American actor Morgan Freeman followed alongside Ghanim Al Muftah, a 20-year old Qatari man who was born with a rare condition that impairs the development of the lower spine.
Freeman sat on the pitch beside Al Muftah.
“How can so many countries, languages and cultures come together if only one way is accepted?” Freeman told the crowd.
“When you call here, we welcome you into our home,” Al Muftah said, referencing the “bayt al sha’ar” or tent that nomadic bedouins of the Arabian peninsula once used for shelter, which inspired the stadium design.
The ceremony featured video footage of Sheikh Tamim as a boy playing soccer in the desert, which seemed aimed at countering the argument made by Qatar’s critics that the Gulf Arab state has no soccer tradition.
Singer Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS joined Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi to perform Dreamers, a new tournament song.
The opening of the tournament was the culmination of 12 years of preparations that have transformed Qatar and have also exposed it to a barrage of criticism including over human rights.
The Qatari royals sat alongside other Arab leaders who traveled to Qatar in a show of regional solidarity, including Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt had severed ties with Qatar from 2017 to January 2021 over accusations that Doha supported terrorism – a reference to Islamist groups. Doha denied the charges.
UAE prime minister Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum attended. No Bahraini leaders were present. (Editing by Michael Georgy and Frances Kerry)