Qatar World Cup 2022: Opening Ceremony coverage showed BBC knows both sport and politics
OCelebrations of major sporting events are, in the firm opinion of one dedicated sports fan, a treat for people who love the drama and spectacle of international mingling but have little interest in the games being played.
At the Olympics, they’ve become a massive, colorful art form themselves – from the jaw-dropping show at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest to the terrifying fantasy of London 2012 – but they’ve never been such a big part of the mugs world. Perhaps the only lasting memory of an opening ceremony is that during the 1994 curtain-raising bonanza, Diana Ross is absent and the goal is at her mercy. On Saturday, Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s polyglot boss, set the tone for the opening of this tournament.
Sat at a press conference, a series of sponsored articles lay in front of him like The generation game Conveyor belt gave Infantino an impassioned defense of the tournament. “Today I feel like a Qatari,” he announced to the assembled delegates from the world media. “Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel handicapped. Today I feel like a migrant worker.” His words were lost in Doha like a hickey; You know you’ve hit a bum when even Alan Shearer calls it “trash.”
I suspect Infantino’s cowardly words will be seen as those of the tournament for years to come real opening ceremony. But without that historical perspective, the tournament proper began on Sunday with a stunning endorsement of the state of Qatar. The show began with a Morgan Freeman-narrated — and oddly shark-infested — introduction to the desert land.
“I have embarked on a journey through a land of earth and sea,” Freeman told the audience. “From this country we have heard a call for the world to connect and – if only for a moment – to return to what can bring us together…” Upon entering Al Bayt Stadium, Freeman was greeted by one Roar from crowd greets crowd. Of course, all of this was broadcast on Red Button and online, but none of it could have been heard by BBC One viewers, who were treated to a completely different show.
A show where – instead of scimitars waving, sexy dancers with spacy ski goggles and the tournament’s mascot, a humanized keffiyeh hovering like a giant stingray – news anchor Ros Atkins introduced the core controversies of the Qatari hosts.
The BBC’s studio team, consisting of Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, Alex Scott and Ashley Williams, remained steadfastly focused on the subject of football (with a touch of politics) while the stadium behind them was bathed in sportswear light. And so viewers on BBC One didn’t catch the performance of Jung Kook, the K-pop superstar, singing the official World Cup 2022 song “Dreamers”.
“We are the dreamers,” he sang. “We make it happen because we believe in it.” He pranced around in a display of the genderless androgyny that has made K-pop one of the world’s biggest cultural exports, clashing with 41-year-old Qatari singer Fahad Al Kubaisi, who joined him on the track, fist together. This amalgamation of the great nations of South Korea and Qatar may not win musical awards, but as Freeman told the assembled masses, “What brings nations together brings communities together.”
Whatever that means. Meanwhile, over on BBC One, Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s legendary Middle East correspondent, has been called in to provide some geopolitical analysis. It compensates for Shearer’s silly comment that “every country has its problems, including our own.”
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It was hardly like counter-programming an England game with a speech by Greta Thunberg, but it was a sobering reminder of the game and perhaps a fairer introduction to the troubles than the soft-power showboating available on the red button. However, the question arises: Why didn’t that happen at the 2018 World Cup in Russia? The exercise in cognitive dissonance was aided by the fact that, let’s face it, Qatar vs Ecuador is about as unglamorous as an opening game (though Russia vs Saudi Arabia 2018 would give them a run for their rubles).
The proceedings were punctuated by strange cutaways for the Ecuadorian fans, who chanted and roared but were confused about their place in this little fragment of history. It was just one of many surreal threads on display: the decision to move the opening ceremony to the Red Button meant it was presented with no explanatory commentary or subtitles (including a speech in Arabic). It wasn’t until Freeman came into the picture (after Evan Almighty it became quite obvious that he’ll do anything for the paycheck) to pull out flimsy inspirational aphorisms, I had an idea of what was going on.
These two opening ceremonies – one broadcast worldwide and the other broadcast by the BBC – illustrate both the challenges and the opportunities of this World Cup. This is not a sporty carnival like we experienced in the Maracanã in 2014, but something that divides. Perhaps it was appropriate at the time to see it in two parts: the duty of moral rigor upheld on BBC One, with commitments as international broadcast partners pushed to the digital fringes. The real question now is whether that tone will be maintained throughout the tournament.
Will they get Frank Gardner in Co-Comms? Lyse Doucet at press conferences? John Simpson gives a touchline analysis? Or do they consider the job done? After all, they should have an easier task next game: England vs, uh, Iran.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/qatar-world-cup-2022-bbc-opening-ceremony-b2229305.html Qatar World Cup 2022: Opening Ceremony coverage showed BBC knows both sport and politics