Skip to main content

World Cup 2022: Fans enraged as BBC snubs opening ceremony with human rights report

Fans label British broadcaster 'disrespectful', as it airs lengthy pre-packaged segment criticising Qatar's human rights record instead of opening ceremony
Qatar opened this year’s World Cup with a stunning opening ceremony kicked off by actor Morgan Freeman and BTS K-pop star Jungkook (AFP)

Qatar opened this year's World Cup with a dazzling opening ceremony fronted by Hollywood legend Morgan Freeman,  but fans tuning in via the BBC were left in the dark as the British broadcaster chose to skip the first half-hour of the event.

At first BBC One chose to continue coverage of the Women's Super League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but instead of switching over to the live performance once the match finished it aired a pre-recorded report on Qatar's human rights record. 

Qatar World Cup: Cheers, celebrations as long wait ends for first Arab-hosted finals
Read More »

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


"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 at the start of the segment, before diving into criticism against Qatar’s treatment of women and migrant workers, free speech and a series of other issues.

"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," Lineker said.

"Homosexuality is illegal here. Women’s rights and freedom of expression are in the spotlight.

"Against that backdrop, there’s a tournament to be played – one that will be watched and enjoyed around the world. Stick to football, say Fifa. Well, we will – for a couple of minutes at least."

Lineker's opening comments were followed by a nearly 30-minute censure of Qatar from the BBC’s Ros Atkins, who eviscerated the Gulf nation on a slew of issues with a combination of interviews, footage and graphics, diving into a list of rights criticisms as well as the event’s carbon footprint

'Outrageously disrespectful'

Fans watching BBC One, as well as ITV, expressed outrage over the snub, which many called "disrespectful".

"Outrageously disrespectful to Qatar that the BBC didn’t broadcast the World Cup opening ceremony, and instead put out more virtue-signalling guff about how awful it is. If they’re that appalled, they should bring home their vast army of employees & spare us this absurd hypocrisy," Piers Morgan tweeted. 

"'It's the most controversial World Cup in history' says the BBC at the start of its coverage. Says so much given Putin’s Russia hosted it last time," Amnesty International UK campaigns manager Kristyan Benedict said in a post to Twitter. 

For his part, Conservative MP Scott Benton railed against the broadcaster’s decision to cover the event from Qatar while still criticising the Gulf state. 

"Overpaid @GaryLineker and co lecturing the world on climate emissions, human rights & more. If they’re that bothered why did they go? Could have saved thousands & reported on it from the UK," he posted. 

Meanwhile, others welcomed the move, with British-American broadcaster Roger Bennett lauding the BBC’s "stark contrast to Fox Coverage in United States".

BBC One did not respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment on the programming decision, but did note that: "Full build-up and coverage of the World Cup has been available across the BBC, including the opening ceremony on iPlayer (online)".

At least 60,000 football fans attended the live event on Sunday, with Qatar comfortably beaten by Ecuador 2-0 in the opening match. 

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.