Cape Town — Celebrated American movie icon Morgan Freeman made a surprise appearance at the glittering opening ceremony of the Fifa World Cup at the tent-shaped Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, in Qatar on Sunday afternoon.
There was no mention in the earlier media releases that Freeman would voice the proceedings, and many in the 60 000-strong crowd would have been surprised. Americans would have been most surprised since he was a formidable part of their campaign to vie for the 2022 World Cup hosting rights, which Qatar eventually won, despite considerable support from Fifa's executive at the time.
Freeman made mention of the stadium's tent-like shape in his address when he said: "So we gather here as one big tribe, and Earth is the tent we all live in.
“Yes, and together we can send out the call for all the world to join us.
“Football unites nations around their love for the beautiful game. What brings together nations also brings together communities.”
Morgan was joined on stage by Ghanim Al Muftah, the Qatar-born entrepreneur, motivational speaker, social media celebrity, and philanthropist. He was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome and does not have a lower body. He walks on his hands.
Qatari YouTuber Al Muftah delivered an inspirational message of respect, unity and tolerance.
The ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, delivered the keynote address.
The gist of his speech read: "From Qatar, from the Arab world, I welcome everyone to this year's World Cup.
"We have worked so hard to make this one of the most successful events in the world. And we are finally here, in good grace.
"For 28 days, we will be following, along with the rest of the world, this incredible event, and understanding each other, under this roof.
"The one roof that brings us all together, with all our differences, cultures and beliefs – to respect each other, and find harmony in our existence.
"I hope that every viewer across the globe enjoys and appreciates this ceremony. Welcome, world!"
The music items were presented by BTS singer Jungkook and Qatari musician Dana Al Fardan, a self-taught composer and songwriter.
There was a no-show by Nora Fatehi, the Canadian dancer and singer who is a leading player in the Indian film industry. Many Indian fans took to social media to ask why the Bollywood actress did not make an appearance after she was mentioned in media releases.
Hundreds of performers participated in the ceremony and featured tributes to all 32 participating countries. The previous World Cup hosts also enjoyed some airtime, including 2010 hosts South Africa. Huge headless “T-shirts” floated down the centre of the arena with the flags of all 32 countries.
The seven-act programme combined all the elements of Qatari culture with traditions across the world. The tournament's creative director Marco Balich had assembled a team of 900 people, including the best-in-the-world choreographers and lighting technicians to stage the opening ceremony. The highly experienced Balich has in the past staged several spectacular Olympic ceremonies for audiences worldwide.
Le'eeb made a few floating appearances during the show and will be the official World Cup mascot for the 22nd version of football's global showpiece. During the show, he led a procession of all the former World Cup mascots, and Zakumi of SA 2010 fame, was also in on the act.
Qatar is the first Arabian country to host the World Cup tournament. This is the second World Cup hosted on Asian soil, after South Korea and Japan in 2002.