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A giant celebration for unity and diversity: Qatar 2022 kicks off with spectacular opening ceremony

Fireworks, a giant replica of the 2022 FIFA World Cup trophy, the trophy itself, Morgan Freeman, the mascots of the previous tournaments… the big opening ceremony of Qatar 2022 had it all, underlining Qatar’s ability to host a successful tournament from scratch, with seven new stadiums built and another one renovated in the first-ever FIFA World Cup organized in wintertime.

In a luxurious setting, under the floodlights of the brand new, state-of-the-art Al Bayt Stadium, some 44 kilometres away from capital Doha, the 30-minute show featured performances by international and local actors and singers, with the highlights being the monologue of Hollywood star Morgan Freeman and the lead singer of the K-Pop superband BTS, Jungkook.

During the first minutes of the ceremony, there were several symbolic indications of welcoming the guests of the FIFA World Cup, with over 1.2 million tourists flocking to the Middle East country to support their teams.

Freeman, whose voice has been featured on numerous commercials and has also featured in key Super Bowl previews in the NFL, made a shock appearance, after being a key ambassador for the USA’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup before Qatar won the right to host the tournament.

The American actor shared a message of unity, stating: “What unites us here in this moment is so much greater than what divides us. How can we make it last longer than just today?”. The Hollywood star appeared on the stage Ghanim Al Muftah, a 20-year-old Qatari man who was born with a rare condition that impairs the development of the lower spine, delivering an address that underlined Qatar’s bid for unity and non-discrimination. The opening shot included a quote of verse 13 of the Surat Al-Hujurat in the Quran, which calls for acceptance of difference and diversity among human beings, within a framework of peace and love

A global phenomenon, Jungkook then appeared on stage debuting his new single solo single “Dreamers” alongside Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi. “Look who we are, we are the dreamers / We make it happen, ’cause we believe it / Look who we are, we are the dreamers / We make it happen ’cause we can see it,” read the lyrics of the song which features English, Korean and Arabic.

The show featured hundreds of dancers, while a giant version of the official mascot La’eeb floated around the stadium. La’eeb means ‘super-skilled player’ in Arabic, and dates back to comics from the late 1940s.

Supersized replicas of all the official mascots of the previous FIFA World Cup editions, including Goleo VI from Germany 2006, Zakumi from South Africa 2010 or Fuleco from Brazil 2014, but also Ciao from Italy 1990 and Footix from France 1998 then appeared on the stage, creating a bridge between the old and the new, another pinpoint message of the FIFA World Cup lore.

Qatar’s emir launched the 2022 World Cup on Sunday with a call for the tournament to be a forum for “civilised communication” after more than a decade of controversy.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani took centre stage after an elaborate display of dancing in a scene involving swirling desert sands, scimitar swords and 21st century pop stars, all taking place in a stadium styled on a Bedouin tent.

Designed to resemble a traditional tent used by nomadic peoples in Qatar and the region, Al Bayt can hold 60.000 spectators and is the second-largest stadium at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, after the “Lusail Stadium”, which is scheduled to host the final on 18 December.

Named after the historic “bayt al sha’ar” tents that were traditionally used by nomadic people in the country and across the region, the arena’s exterior walls and peaked roofs were covered in polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) woven fiberglass membrane to create the tent-like form.

“People of different races, nationalities, creeds and orientations will gather here in Qatar and around screens on all continents to share the same exciting moments,” Al Thani said.

“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. Let this tournament be full of inspiring days of goodness and hope and welcome everyone to the world in Doha,” added Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

An archive film, showing the former Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, playing football with a group of his friends, was also displayed on the big screens and on the TV broadcast, underlining Qatar’s passion for football, which was finally shown to the whole world by organizing the FIFA World Cup.

The FIFA World Cup trophy was brought to the arena by Marcel Desailly, a former winner of the tournament with France’s national team in 1998, with a firework show following soon after, before the kick off proper of the tournament, as hosts Qatar faced Ecuador.

“Family of football. Welcome to Al-Bayt Stadium. Dear friends, welcome to Qatar. Welcome to the World Cup. Welcome to your home. Welcome to celebrate football, because football unites the world. Now, let’s welcome the teams and let the show begin. All the best to everyone. Congratulations!” added FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, before the start of the tournament.

In the first match at Qatar 2022, Ecuador beat the hosts, 2-0, with two goals from striker Enner Valencia, in a game that was attended by 67.732 fans.

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