By Ghulam Haider
After 12 years when the tiny Arab Emirate won the hosting of the greatest sports gala on the earth and strenuous preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the world’s greatest extravaganza finally kicked off in one of the spectacular fashions at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar.
An amazing opening ceremony was held at the 60,000 capacity venue, inspired by one of the bedrocks of Arab culture — the tent, to declare the tournament ‘open’, before the tournament kicked off amid the cheers and roars of the soccer fans from across the globe.
The opening ceremony gave a visual spectacle for fans across the globe. Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman was the narrator in the beginning as he 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. Thereafter, onstage, singer Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS performed a new tournament song called Dreamers, alongside Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, was in attendance and was accompanied by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai’s Crown Prince and Chairman of the Executive Council.
The ceremony started with a presentation narrated by actor Morgan Freeman and Qatari YouTuber Ghanim Al-Muftah, who read out a verse from the Quran about diversity. “Oh mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another,” Al-Muftah said.
Respect and inclusion
The theme was about the gathering of all mankind, bridging differences through humanity, respect and inclusion. “Football allows us to come together as one tribe, and the earth is the tent in which we all live,” FIFA said. A seven-act programme was led by world-class talents that interlaced Qatari tradition with worldwide culture, and included tributes to the 32 competing teams, previous FIFA World Cup hosts and event volunteers.
Jungkook from the South Korea band BTS performed with Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi a rendition of the official World Cup song Dreamers for the sell-out crowd with giant mascots of all the old World Cups to kick off the world’s greatest sporting extravaganza.
The Qatari and Arab art form of the “ardha” war dance was performed and then Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim made a rousing speech. “We are here to achieve the dream and the promise, and to summarise the message of the ceremony in presenting an invitation for coexistence among all. From Qatar and from the Arab world, we welcome everyone to the championships,” he said.
The World Cup trophy – which is 6.17kg of 18 carat gold and worth $20 million- was brought into the arena with a number of legends of the game. Among them was Frenchman Marcel Desailly, Spaniard Iker Casillas and Brazilians Roberto Carlos and Gilberto Silva. To round it off fireworks filled the night sky and it was a remarkable event beamed to 5 billion people all around the world.
Meanwhile, at The Fans Festival on the Corniche in Doha, tens of thousands of football fans turned out to celebrate the start of the World Cup where they enjoyed a spectacular light show, fireworks, more World Cup legends and well-known DJ’s playing songs late into the night. Crowds of fans in football shirts were singing football songs and having a wonderful time. Hands of every colour were being shaken and there was a real sense of togetherness. The show ended with a bang as the words “Welcome to Qatar” filled the sky.
There have been 21 editions of the FIFA World Cup since its inauguration in 1930 but Qatar 2022 is set to be a tournament like no other. It was always destined to be a tournament of firsts. For instance, this is the first time the Qatari national team is participating in a World Cup finals. It is also the first time the tournament is not being held in May, June or July but this break from tradition is out of necessity.
Temperatures in Qatar can reach over 40 degrees Celsius over those months so, with this in mind, the tournament was moved to the winter meaning the domestic league seasons all over the world have had to take a mid-season break to accommodate the finals. Qatar 2022 will also see female referees officiate a men’s World Cup match for the first time and that is a positive step for female officials across the globe. The six making history are Yamashita Yoshimi, Salima Mukansanga and Stephanie Frappart while Neuza Back, Karen Diaz Medina and American Kathryn Nesbitt are in the Gulf nation as assistants.
After years of meticulous planning the attention has finally shifted to the footballers and the skills they can display. 32 teams will battle it out over 28 days for the ultimate prize, but who will be crowned champions? Brazil and Argentina are the two hot favourites but England and Germany will fancy their chances. Current champions France have suffered a huge blow with the loss of striker Karim Benzema and there are other big names missing including Senegal’s Sadio Mane. This World Cup will be the final tournament for superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who will both retire from their national teams – can either one lead their country to glory?