When the Qatari government decided to spend millions of pounds on a World Cup opening ceremony featuring Morgan Freeman, Jungkook from BTS and hundreds of performers, it probably hoped it would be the moment when the global media finally focused on football rather than human rights.
What it probably did not expect was that the BBC would ignore the entire event in favour of a broadcast criticising the treatment of migrant workers, highlighting corruption at Fifa and discussing the ban on homosexuality in Qatar. And that was just in the opening two minutes.
“It’s the most controversial World Cup in history and a ball hasn’t even been kicked,” said the Match of the Day host Gary Lineker as he welcomed viewers to the start of the national broadcaster’s coverage on BBC One.
“Ever since Fifa chose Qatar back in 2010, the smallest nation to have hosted football’s greatest competition has faced some big questions – from accusations of corruption in the bidding process to the treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums where many lost their lives. Homosexuality is illegal here. Women’s rights and freedom of expression are in the spotlight. Also, the decision six years ago to switch the World Cup from summer to winter.”
The BBC declined to explain why it had shunted coverage of the opening ceremony – traditionally an opportunity for host countries to project soft power around the world – to an online-only stream. Viewers in other countries saw Jung Kook, one of the most famous singers in the world, perform his new song – sample inspirational lyric: “Look who we are, we are the dreamers / We’ll make it happen because we believe it” – in a packed stadium. At the same moment, BBC One viewers were watching the presenter Ros Atkins introduce an interview with Amnesty International and state: “We’ve never seen a World Cup with a carbon footprint like this before.”