Actor Morgan Freeman has raised eyebrows by playing an unexpected lead role at the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony – he was a leading face of one of the competing bids that Qatar defeated to win the hosting rights to the tournament.
In 2010, the United States vied with Qatar for nomination to host the 2022 World Cup. Freeman and former US President Bill Clinton were among the big names who traveled to Zurich, Switzerland, for one final pitch.
Freeman famously made a mistake reading his portion of the presentation for the event. At one point he paused mid-sentence and apologized for accidentally skipping his script.
“I’m sorry, I missed a page,” he said at the time.
Qatar eventually and controversially beat the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia.
As the opening ceremony began early Monday morning Australian time, Freeman lent his legendary voice to the action, appearing on stage with Qatari YouTuber Ghanim Al Muftah.
The pair lip-synched through a recorded conversation that seemed to hint at some of the criticism Qatar had drawn in the run-up to the tournament.
“How can so many countries, languages and cultures come together if only one path is accepted?” asked Freiman.
“We were raised to believe that as nations, as tribes, we are scattered across this earth so that we can learn from one another and find beauty in differences,” Al Muftah said.
“I can see it because what unites us here in this moment is so much bigger than what separates us. How can we ensure that it lasts longer than today?” said Freimann.
“With tolerance and respect we can live together under one big house… when we call you here, we welcome you to our home,” Al Muftah replied.
“So we gather here as one big tribe, and Earth is the tent we all live in,” Freeman said.
“Yes, and together we can send out a call for the whole world to join us,” said the local hero.
Qatar has faced global criticism for its human rights record, including the treatment of migrant workers, LGBTQ people and women.
Less seriously, several sports and media figures noted how surprising it was for Freeman to have a central role in Qatar’s event given his previous role in the competing US bid.
“I half wonder if Morgan Freeman was a Qatari sleeper agent when he botched his presentation in Zurich for the US World Cup bid.” joked the CBS soccer analyst Grant Wahl for example.
Elsewhere it has been suggested that Qatar was “trolling” by giving Freeman the gig.
Later in the ceremony, Freeman praised football’s ability to unite nations with different cultures around a single passion.
“Football unites nations around their love of the beautiful game. What brings nations together also brings communities together,” he said.
The audience was also treated to a performance by South Korean pop star Jung Kook. He sang dreamera song from the official soundtrack of the tournament.
The opening ceremony was to be followed by the first cup match between the host country and Ecuador.
Originally published as FIFA World Cup: Opening Ceremony with a wry headline by Morgan Freeman