Fifa World Cup: Opening ceremony headlined, somewhat ironically, by Morgan Freeman

Actor Morgan Freeman speaks during the opening ceremony for the World Cup. Photo / AP

Actor Morgan Freeman has raised eyebrows by playing an unexpected starring role in the FIFA World Cup’s opening ceremony – having been a leading face of one of the rival bids Qatar vanquished to win hosting rights for the tournament.

Back in 2010, the United States was competing with Qatar to be named the host of the 2022 World Cup. Freeman and former US president Bill Clinton were among the big names who travelled to Zurich, Switzerland to make a final pitch.

Freeman famously slipped up while reading his part of the presentation for the event, at one point pausing mid-sentence and apologising for accidentally skipping ahead in his script.

“I’m sorry, I missed a page,” he said at the time.

Qatar ultimately, and controversially, beat the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

As the opening ceremony began early on Monday morning, NZ time, Freeman lent his legendary voice to proceedings, appearing on stage with Qatari YouTuber Ghanim Al Muftah.

US actor Morgan Freeman, left, sits on the stage next to FIFA World Cup Ambassador Ghanim Al Muftah, at the opening ceremony. Photo / AP
US actor Morgan Freeman, left, sits on the stage next to FIFA World Cup Ambassador Ghanim Al Muftah, at the opening ceremony. Photo / AP

The pair lip-synched through a prerecorded conversation, which seemed to hint at some of the criticism Qatar has copped in the lead-up to the tournament.

“How can so many countries, languages and cultures come together, if only one way is accepted?” Freeman asked.

“We were raised to believe that we were scattered on this earth as nations, as tribes, so we could learn from each other and find beauty in the differences,” said Al Muftah.

“I can see it, for what unites us here in this moment is so much greater than what divides us. How can we make it last for more than just today?” said Freeman.

“With tolerance and respect, we can live together under one big home … when we call you here, we welcome you into our home,” Al Muftah replied.

“So we gather here as one big tribe, and Earth is the tent we all live in,” Freeman said.

“Yes, and together we can send out the call for all the world to join us,” said the local star.

There has been sustained global criticism of Qatar for its human rights record, including its treatment of migrant workers, LGBTQ people and women.

On a less serious note, several sport and media figures noted how surprising it was for Freeman to be playing a central role in Qatar’s event, given his previous role with the rival US bid.

“Half-wondering if Morgan Freeman was a Qatari sleeper agent when he screwed up his presentation in Zurich for the US World Cup bid,” joked CBS football analyst Grant Wahl, for example.

Elsewhere it was suggested that Qatar was “trolling” by giving Freeman the gig.

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