The 85-year-old actor kicked off the opening ceremony of the football competition on Sunday (20 November) by narrating the opening segment The Calling at Al-Bayt Stadium in Doha.
He told the crowd: “We gather here as one big tribe and Earth is the tent we all live in.”
This World Cup is being called controversial due to its host country, Qatar, and the concerns over human rights abuses there.
For instance, the plight of the migrant workers who helped build Qatar’s infrastructure has been highlighted frequently in the run-in to this tournament.
There have been complaints by the LGBTQ+ communities as well. Kick It Out’s Qatar working group says despite repeated requests, proper reassurances over safety have not been given and LGBTQ+ fans have largely stayed away from a country that criminalises same-sex relationships.
Other LGBTQ+ groups have indicated they are staying away to protect the community within Qatar, who Human Rights Watch says are targeted by the authorities – something the government strongly denies.
For the same reasons, Freeman’s appearance at the opening ceremony in the Middle East nation was criticised by many on social media.
“For a man who played Nelson Mandela – who knew better than anyone the impact and importance of isolation on a country and its success on the ground to change that nation’s policy – it is so disappointing to see #MorganFreeman take the money and support an oppressive regime,” one person wrote on Twitter.
Another person added: “@morganfreeman very disappointed, some people will do anything for money. Won’t watch #shawshankredemption again.”
For a man who played Nelson Mandela - who knew better than anyone the impact & importance of isolation on a country & its success on the ground to change that nation's policy - it is so disappointing to see #MorganFreeman take the money & support an oppressive regime😥 #Gutted
— Gary Webster (@RealGaryWebster) November 20, 2022
One person wrote: “Morgan Freeman should be ashamed. How much they pay you? How much is your integrity? Never rise your voice to talk about of minorities. You just lost that privilege.”
The Independent has contacted Freeman’s representatives for comment.
Almost 12 years have passed since a largely disgraced Fifa executive committee stunned the world by awarding Qatar these finals.
Around £200bn has reportedly been spent on readying the country for this moment. The human cost, according to rights groups, is incalculably higher.
Right up to the opening day, the finals have featured controversial moments.
This opening match was due to be played on 21 November but was moved only months ago to enable the hosts’ match against Ecuador to stand alone.
Even this week, questions have been raised over where the power lies at this tournament after Fifa sponsors Budweiser were barred from selling beer within the stadium perimeters.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, who insists he is “200 per cent in control” of these finals, launched an extraordinary defence of Qatar on Saturday (19 November), accusing Europe of hypocrisy over its criticism of the Middle East state.
His view is that football’s soft power can accelerate change and that it has done in Qatar, an indication that it is entirely possible countries with similar human rights records to Qatar could host a World Cup in the future.
Human rights criteria can and will be applied, but they will only be a factor for FIFA’s 211 member associations to consider, with Saudi Arabia reportedly keen to co-host in 2030.