Qatar has been heavily criticized for its treatment of foreign workers, women and LGBTQ representatives. The World Cup is estimated to cost the Gulf State $200 billion, making it the most expensive World Cup in history. Several new stadiums were built especially for the big event.

According to the organizers, the opening ceremony was characterized by “respect and inclusion”. “How beautiful it is when people put aside what separates them while preserving their diversity and what unites them,” said the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, in his speech at the Al Bayt Stadium. He hopes for “human and civilized communication” during the tournament.

“Everyone is welcome,” said Ghanim Al-Muftah, a Qatari disability rights activist, who appeared at the opening ceremony alongside US actor Morgan Freeman.

South Korean K-pop star Jung Kook, among others, created a good atmosphere shortly before Qatar’s opening game against Ecuador during the ceremony in the Al Bayt Stadium. In addition to celebrities, foreign government representatives such as the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were also represented in the audience. After years of conflict on the Arabian peninsula, bin Salman visited the Gulf state of Qatar for the first time in December last year.

Hosts Qatar then suffered a sobering 2-0 defeat by Ecuador in the opening game. Thousands of spectators left the stadium long before the final whistle.

The World Cup, which ends on December 18, is the first in an Arab country. In addition, for the first time the tournament will not be held in the European summer, but at the end of the year. The German team will start the tournament in their duel against Japan on Wednesday.

World football association Fifa awarded the 2010 World Cup to Qatar. However, the Gulf state is repeatedly accused of human rights violations, including against representatives of the LGBTQ community. Homosexuality is forbidden by law in Qatar. The English abbreviation LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.

Fifa President Gianni Infantino defended Qatar so vehemently the day before the start of the World Cup that he shook his head in horror. He dismissed criticism of the event as “hypocrisy” and accused critics of double standards. The Qatari authorities have assured him that “everyone” is “welcome” during the World Cup.

Several Western national teams confirmed their intention to raise human rights issues during the World Cup. The captains of several national teams, including Germany, England, Belgium and Denmark, have announced that they will wear a “One Love” armband that stands for diversity and tolerance.

The organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and several sports journalists’ unions expressed concern at the start of the World Cup over reports that the Qatari authorities were restricting the work of journalists. For example, a US journalist was asked to delete his photos from the media accreditation center. A Danish journalist was prevented from continuing his filming on the street in the middle of a live broadcast.

More and more sports journalists have expressed concern “that they could be subject to arrest, violence or even arbitrary detention,” it said. In a joint statement, the RSF and the unions called on the authorities to “respect” the journalists and not “hinder them” in their work.