The 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium – which means ‘home’ – is designed as a tent to symbolise the shelters historically used by nomadic people in the region.
Qatar kicked off the Middle East’s first-ever FIFA World Cup with Arab culture taking centre stage, as state officials and popular artists participated in the tournament’s opening ceremony at the Al Bayt Stadium.
Moments before the ceremony began, leaders from the region made their way to join the Father Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Among the officials was Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el Sisi, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, King of Jordan Abdullah II, Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tarik, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino sat alongside the Amir, while other guests included the World Health Organisation director general, the president of Djibouti, and the crown prince of Kuwait.
The United Arab Emirates sent its vice president, who also serves as ruler of Dubai, where many World Cup fans have chosen to stay. This is despite its rapprochement with Doha being slower than that of Riyadh and Cairo.
The stadium, however, filled with the biggest applause as Qatar’s ruler and his father, who secured the tournament back in 2010, walked in to take their seat right before the pitch.
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022: ‘Everyone is Welcome’
The opening ceremony was an infusion of the sport with the authentic Arab culture, emboldening the very regional nature of this World Cup, sending out an overt promise of “everyone is welcome.”
“In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. From Qatar, from an Arab country, I welcome everyone to the World Cup 2022,” Amir Tamim said ahead of the show.
“We have worked hard, along with many people, to make it one of the most successful tournaments. We have exerted all efforts and invested for the good of all humanity.”
Spanning across a 30-minute show, the ceremony saw Hollywood legend Morgan Freeman narrate a story about uniting the world through peace and harmony.
Alongside the five-time Oscar nominee was Ghanim Al Muftah, a FIFA World Cup Ambassador.
Al Muftah, who lives with Caudal Regression Syndrome, is an outspoken advocate of disability issues.
Together, Freeman and Al Muftah spoke on the topic of unity and tolerance. Al Muftah highlighted Qatar’s welcoming nature through its tribal heritage, saying that building a tribal tent signifies “home”, in a fitting reference to the Al Bayt Stadium.
As part of the ceremony’s welcoming message, the Qatari FIFA ambassador also recited a Quranic verse: “We made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.”
The show went on to feature a score of performances, with a special appearance from previous World Cup mascots. As former mascots left the stage, La’eeb, Qatar 2022’s mascot, took centre stage as it opened its wings to the world.
Shortly after, a dance troupe wearing white surrounded Korean BTS star Jung Kook as he performed “Dreamers.” The tune emphasises the hope that the World Cup encapsulates every four years and will garner both on and off the field.
The K-pop artist was then followed by popular local singer Fahad Al Kubaisi.
‘Ahlan wa Sahlan’
While addressing the ‘football family’, Infantino welcomed the inaugural match as he spoke in Arabic language saying: “Ahlan wa sahlan bekom, aelat korat ghadam” which literally translates to ‘welcome, football family’.
The FIFA president went on to mark the starting time of the match, saying “mabrook” (congratulations).