The Qatar World Cup is probably the most controversial World Cup we have ever had. It is unprecedented in the amount of conversation that surrounds it, and it is only getting worse.
Although a lot of these controversies and protests were expected, what was exceptionally unusual was what BBC did.
Opening Ceremonies are a major milestone in every tournament, from the Olympics to the Commonwealth games, from IPL of cricket to the World Cup of football, thee ceremonies are headlined by performers and are used to further agendas.
England’s BBC though decided to skip the entire Opening Ceremony in exchange for a programme condemning migrant worker abuse, spotlighting corruption at Fifa, and addressing Qatar’s homosexuality ban. And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
Gary Lineker, who works for the BBC, presented a half-hearted explanation for why they chose to disregard it.
A raw version of the footage from the opening ceremony was made accessible to online users, and the BBC One audiences were shown the WSL game and the humanitarian speech against Qatar.
While other viewers were seeing Jung Kook sing his new song and Morgan Freeman talk about unity in a crowded stadium, BBC One audiences were watching presenter Ros Atkins explain the human and ecological costs of the World Cup in Qatar.
Of course, there was an alternative to the BBC’s coverage. People in the United Kingdom who were viewing Freeview may have seen the buildup on Al Jazeera, the English-language 24/7 news station supported by the Qatari government. The critiques were acknowledged, but the ceremony was framed from the perspective of Doha’s “incredible advances in infrastructure.”
It’s safe to say that a lot of the fans were unhappy. The World Cup has a lot of issues, and so does the host country, but the opening ceremony is a platform for the country to show the world whatever message they want to convey.
In particular, some fans are calling out the fact that the message that Qatar was conveying was one of peace, as can be seen in the Qur’an passage that was spoken during the ceremony.
Additionally, in an effort to symbolize inclusion in a nation that has come under fire for its human rights record, ceremony narrator Morgan Freeman made an appearance in the stadium to join hands with a FIFA World Cup ambassador who has a rare spinal disease.
Further, the irony of using Humanitarian causes to shun Qatar was not lost on fans either. When the World Cup was held in Russia back in 2018, they had already annexed Crimea and laid the foundations of war.
When China held the Winter Olympics less than a year ago, they were infamous for the genocide they were, and still are, committing. In both situations, the BBC was quiet about the issues.
Piers Morgan, who has been playing devil’s advocate for as long as we can remember, also chimed in against the British broadcasters.
What should not be ignored, however, is that the messages that the BBC sent were not incorrect either. The human and environmental cost of the World Cup is still unequivocally the worst we have seen, possibly ever.
The timing was questionable, to say the least, and by taking away the people’s platform to view it they made their case worse. The World Cup, regardless of location, is still the World Cup, and the opening ceremony deserves to be seen by everyone everywhere.
BBC has a long history of creating controversies and making mistakes on the global stage, and this one ranks pretty high on that list.