Disgraced Morgan Freeman kicks off World Cup opening ceremony in front of the Qatari royal family and rows of empty seats – after weeks of criticism of the country’s human rights record and hypocritical stars who overlook it

  • Fans have arrived at the Al Bayt stadium for this afternoon’s opening match between Qatar and Ecuador
  • The atmosphere appeared friendly as the two groups of supporters stopped to snap pictures together
  • Qatar will be hoping a strong showing against Ecuador will sweep aside some of the controversy 
  • **CLICK HERE for our dedicated World Cup live blog as the tournament kicks off**

Morgan Freeman kicked off the World Cup opening ceremony in Qatar today in front of the country’s royals and rows of empty seats following weeks of criticism over the country’s human rights record. 

The actor narrated the event’s opening segment titled ‘The Calling’, telling viewers ‘We all gather here in one big tribe’ as fans descended on Doha city centre for the imminent kick off of the world’s greatest football festival.

Empty seats could be seen within the Al Bayt Stadium during the ceremony, which featured scenes including ‘Leta’Arafo (To Know One Another)’, followed by ‘Chants of Nations’, a World Cup Medley, a showcase of the official mascots and Jung Kook of South Korean boy band BTS.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani then delivered a speech to the crowd gathered to watch the opening match. 

Supporters today arrived at the Al Bayt stadium for this afternoon’s opening match under a glaring sun in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees celsius.

Actor Morgan Freeman narrated the opening segment titled ‘The Calling’, telling viewers ‘We all gather here in one big tribe’ as fans descended on Doha city centre for the imminent kick off of the world’s greatest football festival

Aritsts perform during the opening ceremony before the World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar

Morgan Freeman and Ghanim al Muftah during the opening ceremony. Supporters have now arrived at the Al Bayt stadium for this afternoon’s opening match under a glaring sun in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees celsius

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani waves to the crowd as he arrives with FIFA President Gianni Infantino for the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor

South Korean singer Jung Kook performs during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha

Supporters have now arrived at the Al Bayt stadium for this afternoon’s opening match under a glaring sun in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees celsius

Supporters watch the opening ceremony of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha

Dancers perform during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor

Performers perform during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20

A drummer performs during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20

Jung Kook of BTS performs during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20

Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

Three Camels, together with their handlers during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor. Picture date: Sunday November 20, 2022

Former France International Marcel Desailly with the World Cup trophy ahead of the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium

Supporters of Qatar prior the FIFA World Cup 2022 group A Opening Match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, 20 November

Supporters cheer ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on November 20

Qatar fans take their seats before kick-off Qatar v Ecuador, FIFA World Cup 2022, Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, Qatar

The vice president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who is also Dubai’s ruler, arrived in Qatar for the World Cup opening on Sunday, Qatar’s news agency said.

And Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince and a delegation of ministers arrived in the neighbouring country this morning to attend the opening ceremony, Saudi state media reported. 

Mohammed bin Salman was accompanied by the kingdom’s energy, interior, foreign, commerce and investment ministers as well as senior officials including his national security adviser and head of the National Guard, the official Saudi Press Agency said.

Qatari fans in crisp white thobes and women in black shayla headdresses and abayhas were seen filing into the stadium, which has been designed to look like the tents used by nomads.

They were accompanied by Ecuador fans, many of whom donned extravagant headdresses, balaclavas and masks and carried their national flags.

The atmosphere appeared friendly, with both sets of fans stopping to snap photos together outside the stadium’s entry gates. 

Before the first match gets underway at 4pm, fans can expect to witness a major firework display, live music performances and much more.

Bollywood star Nora Fatehi is expected to perform the World Cup single ‘Light The Sky’ with Jung Kook of K-Pop sensations BTS confirmed.

Nicki Minaj, Maluma and Myriam Fares are in town to show off the official tournament song ‘Tukoh Taka’.

Robbie Williams is also set to perform and the Black Eyed Peas have also been rumoured to be appearing. 

Qatar and Ecuador fans are seen posing for pictures outside the Al Bayt stadium ahead of the World Cup’s opening match tonight

Amiri Guards wearing assault rifles are seen outside the stadium prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador

Ecuador fans are seen outside the Al Bayt stadium before the match against hosts Qatar which kicks off at 4pm

Qatar supporters roller blade along the road outside the Al Bayt stadium waving national flags ahead of tonight’s opening match

Performers outside the stadium ahead of the FIFA World Cup Group A match at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

Fans of Ecuador pose for a picture as they arrive at Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on November 20, 2022, before the kick-off match of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament between Qatar and Ecuador

Qatar’s supporters wave a flag as they arrive at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor

Fans of Ecuador pose for a picture as they arrive at Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on November 20, 2022, before the kick-off match of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament between Qatar and Ecuador

Fans of Ecuador queue to get into the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha

Supporters pose for selfies inside the Al Bayt stadium ahead of the opening ceremony

Fans of Canada pose for a picture with fans of Qatar as they arrive at Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on November 20, 2022

As host of the Middle East’s first World Cup, the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani is expected to welcome a star-studded guest list of celebrities and political leaders including Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and the presidents of Egypt and Algeria.

Many of the labourers who toiled to build the eight stadiums will watch from the sidelines, unable to afford the highest ticket prices ever for a World Cup despite working tirelessly to fulfil a brutal schedule which saw many of their colleagues perish. 

But a lucky few will be sprinkled among the well-heeled audience having been gifted tickets by the England football team.

The controversy that has long surrounded the decision to award the tiny Gulf state the World Cup has built to a crescendo ahead of the tournament, with unrelenting scrutiny of its treatment of migrant workers and the LGBT+ community.

‘We are ready,’ Qatar supporter Hakeem Ahmad told Reuters as he entered the stadium with his wife and two children. 

‘Whatever happens on the pitch, the world should look kindly on us today.

‘We have organised this party for you. If Qatar can perform well, that would be a bonus for us.

‘We hope that after today people will see Qatar in a different light, for who we really are. It is time to talk positively about Qatar.’

Cathal Kelly, columnist for Canada’s national newspaper the Globe and Mail, summed up the distractions.

‘Once the first ball is kicked, no one cares if they’re holding this thing on a ceremonial burial ground or powering it with coal,’ he wrote.

Qatar fans wave flags and pose for photos outside of tonight’s opening match

Portugal supporters are pictured in Qatar ahead of the opening ceremony

Cameroon fans cheer on the metro in Doha on November 20, 2022 ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup football tournament

Fans of the US (L) and Wales (R) gather at the traditional market Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar, 20 November 2022. The USA will face Wales in their FIFA World Cup 2022 group B match on 21 November

Ecuador’s supporters wave a flag as they arrive at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on November 20, 2022, before the kick-off match of the Qatar 2022 World Cup

Fans of Spain gather at the traditional market Souq Waqif in Doha, Qatar, 20 November 2022. Spain will face Costa Rica in their FIFA World Cup 2022 group E match on 23 November

That will certainly be the hope of football’s governing body FIFA and Qatari organisers who have pleaded for critics to focus on the football and not let the sport be dragged into ideological or political battles.

‘This is the first time I’ve come to a World Cup,’ Wilmer Saltos, 35, a farmer, who has travelled from Guayaquil on the coast of Ecuador with his brother and sister told Reuters while waiting in the heat to enter the stadium.

‘When we saw that Ecuador was opening the tournament, we thought we just had to be here. There are obviously big cultural differences, you can’t deny it.

‘But for us, today is about the football, we just want to focus on the game.’

While Qatar is hosting one of sport’s biggest parties it will be a mostly alcohol free after officials decided to turn off the beer taps inside stadiums, drawing even more criticism.

Qatar is a typically teetotal nation where tourists can only buy or consume alcohol inside licensed hotels or restaurants. 

Exemptions for the World Cup previously meant meant fans were able to buy beers in special ‘fan zones’ or on stadium concourses.

But Qatar reneged on part of that deal, meaning beer can now only be sold only inside the ‘fan zones’ and will not be available in the stadiums.

Pints will cost £12, only be available at certain times, and each person will be limited to a maximum of four to stop them getting drunk.

Beer or no beer, Qataris and thousands of visiting fans have arrived ready to party with throngs packing the FIFA Fan Festival zones in central Doha along the city’s famed Corniche.

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