Sports

World Cup gets underway with stakes high for host Qatar

AL KHOR: The World Cup kicked off in Qatar on Sunday with the Muslim nation, which faced a barrage of criticism over its treatment of foreign workers, rights and social restrictions, staking its reputation on delivering a smooth tournament.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani arrived at the stadium flanked by FIFA president Gianni Infantino, to a roaring crowd, and took their seats alongside other Arab leaders.

A show then unfolded on the pitch, featuring three camels, American actor Morgan Freeman and a performance of a new tournament song called Dreamers featuring singer Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS, alongside Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and the presidents of Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General, are among leaders at the in a tent-shaped stadium ahead of the first match between the hosts and Ecuador.

Qatar, which has denied accusations of abuse of workers and discrimination, and FIFA hope the spotlight will now turn to action on the pitch. Organisers have also denied allegations of bribery for hosting rights.

Inside Al Bayt Stadium many seats were still vacant with gridlock on the expressway leading to the arena, where cheers went up as Qatar’s team appeared for their opening match.

The football tournament, the first held in the Middle East and the most expensive in its history, is a culmination of Qatar’s soft power push, after a 3-1/2 year boycott by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain which ended in 2021.

The UAE, whose rapprochement with Doha has been slower than that of Riyadh and Cairo, sent its vice president who is also ruler of Dubai, where many World Cup fans have opted to stay.

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