Those tuning into watch the event on Sunday (20 November) instead found Gary Lineker delivering an opening monologue, in which he criticised the host country’s treatment of migrant workers as well as its record on human rights.
Ahead of the first match, which was between Qatar and Ecuador, Lineker explained why the World Cup had become “the most controversial in history”.
Instead of showing events from the opening ceremony, which included a divisive cameo from Morgan Freeman, Lineker presented a segment that highlighted the allegations of corruption behind Fifa’s decision to let the country host the tournament.
He then led his fellow pundits Alex Scott, Ashley Williams and Alan Shearer in a discussion regarding workers rights and the country’s discriminatory laws against the LGBTQ+ community.
Morgan said the BBC’s decision to lead on the controversy as opposed to the opening ceremony was “outrageously disrespecful to Qatar”.
He accused Lineker of “virtue signalling”, writing on Twitter: “Outrageously disrespectful to Qatar that the BBC didn’t broadcast the World Cup opening ceremony, and instead put out more virtue-signalling guff about how awful it is.
“If they’re that appalled, they should bring home their vast army of employees and spare us this absurd hypocrisy.”
The BBC has since debunked Morgan’s complaint, writing: “Just like previous tournaments, we haven’t shown the opening ceremony on BBC One. Full build up and coverage of the World Cup has been available across the BBC, including the opening ceremony on iPlayer.”
Earlier this month, Gary Neville was criticised while guest-hosting Have I Got News For You for his decision to travel to Qatar in order to commentate World Cup matches.
In a rare serious moment, panellist Ian Hislop questioned Neville, who told him: “Well, you’ve got a choice, I think, haven’t you?”
Hislop fired back: “What, going or not going?”
Neville defended his decision to to go to Qatar for work, stating: “My view always has been, you either highlight the issues and challenges in these countries, and speak about them, or you basically don’t say anything and stay back home, and don’t go. And I’ve always said we should challenge them.”
Hislop then told Neville: “There’s another option: you stay at home and highlight the abuses. You don’t have to go and take the Qataris’ money… It’s just not a very good defence.”