Qatar opens Mideast’s first World Cup before leaders, fans

AL KHOR (Qatar), 20 Nov: Qatar on Sunday opened the Middle East’s first FIFA World Cup before global leaders and football fans who have poured into the small, energy-rich nation.

With American actor Morgan Freeman’s dulcet voice and an Arabian theme with camels, the opening ceremony began with a promise of “everyone is welcome.”

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, speaking at the opening ceremony said the event gathered people of all nationalities and beliefs.

“From Qatar, from the Arab world, I welcome everyone to the World Cup 2022,” he said in a speech in a tent-shaped stadium.

“How lovely it is that people can put aside what divides them to celebrate their diversity and what brings them together all at once.”

Regardless of the outcome of Qatar versus Ecuador on the pitch, Doha already has drawn global leaders, including Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the opening ceremony and inaugural match of the tournament.

Also on hand at the opening was U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Senegalese President Macky Sall, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Kuwait’s crown prince also came, along with the director-general of the World Health Organization and Djibouti’s president. Also present was Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

But the biggest applause came for Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who secured the tournament back in 2010.

Meanwhile, Iran sent just its minister of youth and sports – not its hard-line president – as the Islamic Republic faces monthslong protests over the death of a 22-year-old woman earlier detained by the country’s morality police. (AP)