Gary Lineker opens BBC World Cup coverage addressing Qatar controversies

Gary Lineker opened the BBC's coverage of the Qatar World Cup by highlighting some of the issues faced by the tournament hosts in a no-nonsense monologue, as the opening ceremony was shunned by the national broadcaster.

The first half-hour of the BBC's coverage focused on the controversy around Qatar's hosting of football's showpiece tournament, including the nation's human rights record, treatment of migrant workers and highlighting the ban on homosexuality in the host nation.

"It's the most controversial World Cup in history and a ball hasn't been kicked," Lineker said. "Ever since Fifa chose Qatar back in 2010, the smallest nation to have hosted football's greatest competition has faced some big questions.

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"From accusations of corruption in the bidding process to the treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums, where many lost their lives.

"Homosexuality is illegal here, women's rights and freedom of expression are in the spotlight, also the decision six years ago to switch the World Cup from summer to winter."

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group A - Qatar v Ecuador - Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor, Qatar - November 20, 2022 Amiri Guards outside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Amiri Guards outside the Al Bayt stadium before the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador. (Reuters)

"Against that backdrop is a tournament to be played, one that will be watched and enjoyed around the world," the presenter added.

"Stick to football say Fifa, well, we will for a couple of minutes at least."

Asked by Lineker about the tournament taking place in winter, former England striker Alan Shearer called the scheduling "weird".

"Weird, really strange considering there was a league programme only seven days ago," Shearer said ahead of the World Cup's opening match between Qatar and Ecuador on Sunday.

"There's a lot spoken about, but I hope once the football gets under way it starts feeling like a World Cup and we can sit and enjoy what’s hopefully a great spectacle."

Watch: David Beckham ignores reporter's question in Qatar

The broadcaster also included a segment with BBC presenter Ros Atkins on Fifa's decision to give the green light to Qatar back in 2010, while Lineker also spoke to BBC's international editor Jeremy Bowen on Qatar's mark on hosting the 2022 edition.

Bowen said: "What this World Cup gives them is this extraordinary global attention and that's what they want.

"For a country that is every small, they want to have an influence in the world that is more reflective of their bank balance than the size of the population."

AL KHOR, QATAR - NOVEMBER 20: FIFA World Cup trophy replica displayed as fireworks set off on the pitch during the official opening ceremony of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 ahead of the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor City, Qatar on November 20, 2022. (Photo by Salih Zeki Fazlioglu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The FIFA World Cup trophy replica is displayed as fireworks set off on the pitch during the official opening ceremony. (Photo by Salih Zeki Fazlioglu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

On the eve of the tournament, Lineker told the BBC that he was in Qatar to "report, not support" the World Cup and would highlight issues that had "tainted" the sport's showpiece to date.

"This is our job to come and report it and show people what it's about at home and hopefully in a fair way," he said.

On Saturday, Fifa president Gianni Infantino delivered a bizarre hour-long speech in a pre-tournament press conference in Doha in which he declared “today I feel gay” and “I feel (like) a migrant worker” before taking aim at European critics of Qatar.

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BBC pundit Alex Scott was left perplexed over the Fifa chief's extraordinary monologue.

She said: "I'm trying to understand, you brought a World Cup here and I’m trying to understand about a culture.

"I’m trying to understand everything – the whole context of what’s going on and what the FIFA president said yesterday is to me confusing and absolutely bizarre. How you can say "today I am a migrant worker"? No you are not and you never will be."

Following the opening match - which Ecuador won convincingly 2-0 against Qatar - Lineker ended the progamme by referencing Infantino's speech to the global media. "Today, we're feeling... Ecuador," said the former England striker.