The most controversial and most expensive soccer World Cup in history, Qatar 2022, will kick off today with an opening ceremony at the 60,000 capacity Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar.
Nigerians will be ruing the country’s missed opportunity to feature at the mundial. Parading players like Victor Osimhen, Alex Iwobi, Wilfred Ndidi, Terem Moffi among many others who are doing extremely well at their various clubs in Europe, the Super Eagles blew away their chances in March against West African rivals Ghana when the Black Stars qualified for Qatar on the away-goal rule with a 1-1 draw in Abuja after a goalless draw in Ghana.
Nevertheless, football fans all over the world will be looking forward to enjoy the pomp and pageantry usually associated with the World Cup, including the passion, historical rivalries, grudge matches, unraveling of future stars and the biggest names in world football.
As is the custom, the World Cup opening ceremony takes place around two hours prior to the first match of the tournament. In this case, the opening game will be between hosts Qatar and Ecuador.
The original plan was for the opening ceremony to be held before Qatar’s first game on November 21, which would have created the unusual situation of two games being held before it. The opening match was then brought forward by a day.
The Al Bayt Stadium venue of the opening ceremony and first match of the competition, was inaugurated on November 30, 2021 during the FIFA Arab Cup. According to the Qatar World Cup website, the architects drew inspiration from tents that were used by ancient nomads in the Middle East.
The massive infrastructure behind Qatar 2022 costs around $200 billion, by far the most expensive tournament in World Cup history.
This is a big jump from previous editions – $4.6 billion was spent on Germany 2006, $3.6 billion on South Africa 2010, $11.6 billion on Brazil 2014 and $14.2 billion on Russia 2018.
This edition has also been dubbed “the most compact World Cup in history”, with travel times between stadiums ranging from five minutes to an hour. This gives supporters the chance to catch as many as three matches a day.
The 2022 edition of the World Cup got off to a controversial start from the moment it was awarded to Qatar back in 2010.
Questions were raised about its suitability as a footballing venue given its harsh climate. Criticisms later emerged on how hosting it at the end of the year would disrupt domestic league calendars.
Key officials involved in the process had come under scrutiny, with some banned from football and even facing criminal charges.
Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter who led the organisation for 17 years, recently came out to say that he thought the decision to award the hosting rights to Qatar was wrong.
The tournament will be the first World Cup to be played in the extreme heat of the Middle East summer where temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius.
The World Cup has always been held in the northern hemisphere months of June or July, since its first edition in 1930.
Reacting to criticisms bordering on human rights records in Qatar, FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, accused the West of “hypocrisy” in its reporting about Qatar’s human rights record.
In an extraordinary monologue at a news conference in Doha, Infantino made a passionate remark on Qatar and the tournament. The event has been overshadowed by issues in Qatar including deaths of migrant workers.
Infantino said European nations should apologise for acts committed in their own histories, rather than focusing on migrant workers’ issues in Qatar.
He said: “We have been taught many lessons from Europeans and the Western world. I am European. For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons.
“If Europe really care about the destiny of these people, they can create legal channels – like Qatar did – where a number of these workers can come to Europe to work. Give them some future, some hope.
“I have difficulties understanding the criticism. We have to invest in helping these people, in education and to give them a better future and more hope. We should all educate ourselves, many things are not perfect but reform and change takes time.
“This one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy. I wonder why no-one recognises the progress made here since 2016.
“It is not easy to take the critics of a decision that was made 12 years ago. Qatar is ready, it will be the best World Cup ever.”
Just two days before the start of the tournament, FIFA changed its policy and announced that no alcohol would be served at any of the eight World Cup stadiums.
Alcohol was set to be served “in select areas within stadiums”, despite its sale being strictly controlled in the Muslim country.
Those in corporate areas of stadiums at the tournament will still be able to purchase alcohol.
Addressing the changed decision, Infantino said: “If this is the biggest issue we have for the World Cup then I will resign immediately and go to the beach to relax.
“Let me first assure you that every decision taken at this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA.
“There will be many fan zones where you can buy alcohol in Qatar and fans can simultaneously drink alcohol. I think if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive.
“Especially because the same rules apply in France, Spain, Portugal and Scotland. Here it has become a big thing because it is a Muslim country? I don’t know why. We tried and that is why I give you the late change of policy. We tried to see if it was possible.”
Despite the controversies, like it is said in showbiz “The show must go on”. It has already been confirmed that South Korean pop superstar, Jung Kook of BTS who is part of the official World Cup soundtrack will perform at the opening ceremony.
Atlanta-based rapper Lil Baby has confirmed that he will be performing at the World Cup, but most of the opening ceremony performers will be a surprise.
Others who are rumoured to be performing are Robbie Williams, who also took part in Russia in 2018, and the Black Eyed Peas.
According to reports, Shakira who has been a staple in past World Cups was set to perform but decided to not take part in the opening ceremony. Her song, Waka Waka, has a place in our memories from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
FIFA expects Qatar 2022 to be the most watched World Cup not only in stadiums but also across media platforms.
After the tournament kicks off today, it will really get into full swing on Monday with three matches including African champions Senegal facing Netherlands at 5 pm Nigerian time.