Former England striker Gary Lineker opened the BBC’s coverage of the World Cup by highlighting some of the issues that face the tournament.
Ahead of the opening fixture of the tournament between the hosts and Ecuador, a solemn Lineker stared down the lens and delivered an opening monologue that made it clear there will be no “sticking to football” here before the punditry team also had their say.
“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.
“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.
“Against that backdrop is a tournament to be played, one that will be watched and enjoyed around the World.
“Stick to football say FIFA, well, we will for a couple of minutes at least.”
When asked by Lineker about the tournament taking place in winter, his fellow former England striker Alan Shearer called it “weird”.
“Weird, really strange considering there was a league programme only seven days ago,” Shearer said on the BBC.
“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.”
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Asked by Lineker whether it was “hypocritical” of them to criticise Qatar while covering the tournament, pundit Alex Scott said: “I don’t think I sit in this chair and point fingers or criticise, it’s me trying to understand. You’ve brought the World Cup here, so I’m coming here trying to understand, to understand the culture, everything, the whole context.
“What the FIFA president said yesterday was absolutely bizarre. ‘Today I am a migrant worker’. No you are not, and you never will be. Yes you’ve moved forward and now there’s a minimum wage in this country, which happened in the last two years. One pound an hour. Two hundred and forty pounds a month. And your salary is £1.5million, or whatever it is a year. You will never know what it’s like to be a migrant worker.
“FIFA are awarding clubs over £200m in compensation for players to be playing here, it’s absurd that you’re not even committing to a compensation fund for families.
“When we sit here we are in the richest country, FIFA one of the richest organisations. The great Nelson Mandela said ‘We can use sport to change the World’; well these two, you’re not. When you can.”
Scott also had her say on Qatar’s laws against homosexuality.
“To keep saying ‘football is for everyone’ – we sit here, and it’s not. People have not been able to travel to watch football here out of fear. I’ve had conversations about whether I should be staying at home, whether I should be boycotting. And I thought long and hard about it. For me personally, that would have been the easiest option.
“But I love my job and when I think about it, sitting here and having the harder conversations – we’re talking about the migrant workers, we’re talking about the LGBT+ community, we’re talking about women’s rights. Four years ago, I was the first female pundit for the BBC at a World Cup, you think about how far we’ve moved in four years. Let’s hope in the next four years we are never having to have these conversations again.
Shearer was also highly critical of Infantino’s absurd speech on the eve of the tournament. Scoffing at Infantino’s insistence that the teams should “stick to football”, Shearer said: “Perhaps that’s what Infantino should have done yesterday instead of coming out with that rubbish that he came out with.
“If he feels that strong about the migrant workers and their families, Amnesty’s been asking FIFA for just over $400m for their compensation fund, and they haven’t agreed to that yet. Why?”