World Cup 2022: Morgan Freeman kicks off ceremony in Qatar ahead of opening match against Ecuador

20 November 2022, 16:35 | Updated: 20 November 2022, 18:16

The World Cup in Qatar has opened with appearances from disgraced actor Morgan Freeman, singer Nicki Minaj and pop superstars BTS
The World Cup in Qatar has opened with appearances from disgraced actor Morgan Freeman, singer Nicki Minaj and pop superstars BTS. Picture: Alamy / BBC / PA

By Danielle DeWolfe

The 2022 World Cup has kicked off in Qatar, with actor Morgan Freeman partaking in the opening ceremony amid widespread international criticism of the nation's human rights record.

Opening proceedings in front of the Qatari royal family and rows of empty seats inside the Al Bayt stadium, Freeman could be seen and heard narrating an opening segment 'The Calling'.

The ceremony, which was only partially broadcast on the BBC, saw a host of artists including US pop star Nicki Minaj, K-Pop superstars BTS and British artist Robbie Williams perform.

Williams was one of a growing list of stars to come under fire for endorsing Qatar in recent days.

The Arab nation has faced criticism for its stance on LGBTQ+ rights and claims by The Guardian that 6,500 migrants have died in Qatar since construction began on facilities ahead of the World Cup.

Read more: Joe Lycett shreds £10,000 to protest David Beckham's £10 million World Cup deal for homophobic Qatar

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FBL-WC-2022-MATCH01-QAT-ECU. Picture: Getty

It comes as former England captain and worldwide footballing icon David Beckham also faced criticism for his support of the Gulf State's tournament, in what's rumoured to be a deal worth £10 million.

Recent days saw widespread outrage at celebrity endorsements, with comedian Joe Lycett following through with his threat to shred £10,000 of his own money if Beckham went ahead with the scheduled appearance.

Freeman's appearance follows accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour four years ago, with the star noting at the time he never intended to make anyone "feel disrespected or uncomfortable".

Best known for his performances in films including Invictus and Seven, the actor's voice could be heard echoing around the stadium, saying: "I remember, even after hearing the call, instead of seeing another way, we dismissed it and demanded our own way. And now the world feels even more distant and divided."

It comes ahead of the opening game between the host nation and Ecuador, with BBC pundit and Newcastle striker Alan Shearer labelled a winter World Cup "weird".

Qatar  v Ecuador -World Cup
Qatar v Ecuador -World Cup. Picture: Getty

He went on to push back on criticism of Europe by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who yesterday accused Western nations of “hypocrisy” and noting they were not in any position to give “moral lessons”.

Infantino delivered the extraordinary hour-long speech in a pre-tournament press conference in Doha, in which he declared "today I feel gay" and "I feel (like) a migrant worker" before taking aim at European critics of Qatar.

Shearer's comments follow fellow pundit Gary Neville labelling the FIFA president "the worst face" to represent the Qatar World Cup following the controversial monologue on Saturday.

Qatar v Ecuador: Group A - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
Qatar v Ecuador: Group A - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Picture: Getty

He also called on the governing body, which was disgraced following an investigation into vote buying, to "clean up its act".

The ceremony preceded the opening match of the tournament, which saw the Gulf State square up against Ecuador in a match that saw the lowest number of goal opportunities since stats began in 1966.

A match which saw the home nation lose 2-0, pundits around the world were seen to criticise crowd turn out, after swathes of the stadium never returned to their seats following the half time whistle.

It followed yet more controversy surrounding the logistics of the tournament, after the timings of the opening match were changed at the last minute.

Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro openly criticised the decision, which saw the match rescheduled to Sunday evening.