Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been mired in controversy since it was first announced in 2010.
Concerns over the country’s bleak human rights record, particularly its exploitation of migrant workers and persecution of LGBTQ people, have cast a shadow over the quadrennial soccer tournament, held for the first time in a Muslim-majority nation. Allegations of corruption and bribery surrounding Qatar’s bid to host—as well as the massive climate ramifications of staging the event in a desert country—have also dogged the tournament.
In protest, several athletes, celebrities, and fans around the world have vowed to boycott the World Cup, which will run from Nov. 20 to Dec. 18. Those who have said they will stay away from the tournament include British music icons Dua Lipa and Rod Stewart.
But the issues surrounding this World Cup have not stopped other entertainment personalities from showing up in Qatar, and some have already received criticism for their participation in the tournament.
Before the first kickoff on Sunday at Qatar’s Al Bayt Stadium, Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman made a surprise appearance, narrating the opening ceremony alongside FIFA World Cup Ambassador and Qatari YouTube star Ghanim Al Muftah. “We gather here as one big tribe,” Freeman said.
Robert Michael—picture-alliance/dpa/AP ImagesHollywood actor Morgan Freeman performs during the World Cup opening ceremony in Qatar, Nov. 20, 2022.
South Korean pop singer Jung Kook of K-pop boyband BTS also headlined the ceremony. He sang “Dreamers,” his contribution to the 2022 World Cup soundtrack, before an estimated 60,000 fans in the stadium and likely a fair share of the upwards of 5 billion people who are expected to watch the tournament on TV or online. (BTS has advocated for LGBTQ rights—most notably at the United Nations General Assembly in 2018.)
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Former soccer star David Beckham, a paid “ambassador” for Qatar 2022, watched the opening ceremony and first match from the stands. He’s come under fire for promoting the country in the run-up to the tournament.
Some took to Twitter to express their dismay over the participation of these celebrities. One user questioned how artists can “perform for a nation that is so explicitly violating human rights.” Others called the appearances “disappointing” and “wrong.”
For a man who played Nelson Mandela – who knew better than anyone the impact & importance of isolation on a country & its success on the ground to change that nation’s policy – it is so disappointing to see #MorganFreeman take the money & support an oppressive regime😥 #Gutted
— Gary Webster (@RealGaryWebster) November 20, 2022
Why are BTS Army fans overlooking and turning a blind eye to 6,500 Migrant Workers that DIED building World Cup stadiums in QATAR. Why are they blind to the 1000’s of LGBT arrested and tortured for their identity?
I love BTS & Jungkook but it’s wrong for him to perform there
— Oli London (@OliLondonTV) November 20, 2022
More entertainers are scheduled to perform throughout Qatar’s festivities surrounding the month-long World Cup. At the FIFA Fan Festival in Al Bidda Park in the capital Doha, among those lined up to perform in the next few weeks are American music producers Diplo and Calvin Harris, Jamaican rapper Sean Paul, and British electronic band Clean Bandit.
Other artists reported to appear in Qatar for state-sponsored concerts during the World Cup include American hip-hop group the Black Eyed Peas, Colombian reggaeton star J Balvin, and English singer Robbie Williams, among many others.
Williams has defended his decision to perform at the Doha Golf Club on Dec. 8, telling Italian magazine Il Venerdì last week that it would be “hypocritical” of him not to go. “I don’t condone any abuses of human rights anywhere,” he said. “But, that being said, if we’re not condoning human rights abuses anywhere, then it would be the shortest tour the world has ever known: I wouldn’t even be able to perform in my own kitchen.”