Sign up to Miguel Delaney’s Reading the Game newsletter sent straight to your inbox for free
Sign up to Miguel’s Delaney’s free weekly newsletter
Gary Lineker opened the BBC’s coverage of the Qatar World Cup to criticise the host country’s record on human rights and treatment of migrant workers, as the build-up to the first match of the tournament was dominated by a discussion of off-field concerns.
Lineker, who will lead the BBC’s coverage of the tournament, starting with the first match between Qatar and Ecuador, used an opening monologue to highlight the issues that have made the World Cup “the most controversial in history”.
A segment was included with BBC news correspondent Ros Atkins that examined Fifa’s decision to award the World Cup to Qatar amid allegations of corruption, as well as an interview with the BBC’s international editor Jeremy Bowen.
Lineker also opened a discussion on workers rights and Qatar’s discriminatory LGBTQ+ laws with pundits Alan Shearer, Alex Scott and Ashley Williams – who all expressed disappointment and concern at the hosting of the tournament in country and criticised Fifa president Gianni Infantino following his bizarre speech on Saturday.
Lineker added that he would not be following Fifa’s message to “stick to football” during the tournament, a position that was made clear over the opening half hour of the BBC’s coverage.
The opening game of the tournament between Qatar and Ecuador was barely mentioned in comparison to matters off the pitch.
But while Lineker and the BBC were praised by some for their editorial stance, the former England striker was also criticised of “hypocrisy” and “virtue signalling” on Twitter following his opening speech.
Lineker, who was presenting live from the Al Bayt stadium in Doha, said: “It’s the most controversial World Cup in history, and a ball has not yet been kicked.
“Ever since Fifa chose Qatar back in 2010, the smallest nation to have hosted football’s greatest competition has faced some big questions.
“From accusations of corruption in the bidding process to the treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums, where many lost their lives.
“Homesexuality is illegal here [in Qatar]. Women’s rights and freedom of expression are in the spotlight.
“Also, the decision six years ago to switch the tournament from summer to winter. Against that backdrop, there’s a tournament to be played.
“One that will be watched and enjoyed around the world. Stick to football, said Fifa. Well we will, for a couple of minutes at least.”
The coverage then cut to a montage of iconic moments from previous World Cups, but the rest of the programme was dominated by the controversies that have followed Qatar over the past 12 years.