TV pundits highlight controversies as Qatar World Cup kicks off

TV pundits highlight controversies as Qatar World Cup kicks off

MADRID, SPAIN - 2022/11/19: A man is seen with a pick and chained to a football ball during a protest against the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. People gathered to protest under the slogan 'No to the world cup of shame' denouncing that in the construction of infrastructures at least 6,500 immigrant workers have died. (Photo by Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As RTÉ’s analysts Liam Brady, Richie Sadlier, and Karen Duggan were still talking, the picture cut away from the studio and began showing some unusual out-of-context graphics.

It was only about 30 seconds in that presenter Peter Collins interjected to say the opening ceremony for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar was just getting under way.

It wasn’t long before Morgan Freeman came onto our screens, lending his decades-long built-up goodwill to proceedings. And it was undoubtedly quite the spectacle of lights, of fireworks and of colour, replete with mascots from World Cups past and gigantic jerseys sauntering about the pitch.

“Football spans the world, unites nations in their love of the beautiful game,” said Mr Freeman. “What brings together nations, brings together communities.” 

Morgan Freeman and Ghanim al Muftah during the opening ceremony of the Fifa World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor.
Morgan Freeman and Ghanim al Muftah during the opening ceremony of the Fifa World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor.

Fine words and, indeed, this was Qatar putting its best foot forward and putting on a show as it hosts the biggest show on Earth.

Delivering a speech, the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was greeted with cheers, and bid welcome and good luck to all.

To his left sat Fifa president Gianni Infantino, sandwiched in between the head of State of Qatar and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman, as he launched the most expensive World Cup of all time, and the first in the Middle East.

Over on the other side, on BBC One, they weren’t even showing the opening ceremony. They showed journalist Ros Atkins succinctly describe why this World Cup is so controversial.

He examined the questions around the voting process where Qatar won its bid and the corrupt Fifa officials at their centre, the treatment of migrant workers who have allegedly died by the thousands while the stadiums were being built, and the lack of LGBTQ rights in the country.

Peter Tatchell (second-left) taking part in a protest against the World Cup  outside of the Qatar embassy in London on Saturday. Picture: James Manning/PA Wire
Peter Tatchell (second-left) taking part in a protest against the World Cup  outside of the Qatar embassy in London on Saturday. Picture: James Manning/PA Wire

Awarded 12 years ago now, on a day when Russia was also announced as the host of the 2018 World Cup, Qatar begins the long-awaited tournament with a plethora of questions still being asked how we all got here.

A man is seen in Madrid with a pick and chained to a football ball during a protest against the World Cup. People gathered to protest under the slogan 'No to the World Cup of shame' denouncing that in the construction of infrastructures at least 6,500 immigrant workers are believed to have died. Picture: Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images
A man is seen in Madrid with a pick and chained to a football ball during a protest against the World Cup. People gathered to protest under the slogan 'No to the World Cup of shame' denouncing that in the construction of infrastructures at least 6,500 immigrant workers are believed to have died. Picture: Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images

On RTÉ, they delved into it at length too, with Mr Sadlier, in particular, putting forward strong points. He picked out Mr Infantino as his “flop” of the tournament, referencing his bizarre performance at a press conference on Saturday.

Every time the man speaks... he’s an absurd, laughable figure at this stage,” he said. 

Many who will have seen Mr Infantino’s “I feel gay, I feel disabled” monologue may agree.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Picture: Hassan Ammar/PA
FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Picture: Hassan Ammar/PA

The football finally kicked off at 4pm Irish time and we had to wait just two and a half minutes for the first goal, then chalked off for VAR, but it was this brutal set of sentences published on this website on Saturday that stuck in the mind.

The article was on nine things to look out for at Qatar 2022, and this was the “fifth” thing: “Sunday, November 20, before Qatar v Ecuador. Rumoured acts include Waka Waka’s Shakira, BTS, and the Fifa Official Soundtrack artists, all there to 'celebrate and embody everything the Fifa World Cup stands for'. It’ll be held at Al Bayt Stadium, where 28-year-old Nepalese migrant Sanjib Raya died of heart failure working a 12-hour shift in 40-degree heat for £1 an hour.” 

The World Cup sticks in the memory of millions of us for so many reasons. For Zidane’s headbutt and Maradona’s hand. For Houghton’s loop over Pagliuca and van Persie’s leap through the air.

It also sticks in the memory for the incidental things. Jimmy Magee giving in to temptation to make a Bloomsday in Bloemfontein pun. For the wretched racket of the vuvuzelas. For an English referee booking the same player three times. And for Aldridge’s anger on the touchline.

The events on the pitch and on our screens this time may also stick in the memory in the years to come. Only this time, it might carry an added bitterness on the tongue to go with it too.

As Gary Lineker summed up in his opening monologue on the BBC: “Stick to football, say Fifa. Well, we will. For a couple of minutes, at least.”

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