Spectators leave early DURING opening match between Qatar and Ecuador

Leaving so soon? Enormous Qatar stadium empties as spectators leave early during opening game as hosts lose to Ecuador

  • There were rows of empty seats seen during the FIFA World Cup’s opening game between Qatar and Ecuador
  • The hosts were comfortably beaten 2-0 by the South Americans at the  Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor tonight
  • Empty seats were visible during the opening ceremony before the game, which featured Morgan Freeman 
  • In the capital of Doha, there were chaotic scenes as organisers allowed too many people into a fan park

The opening game of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar saw thousands of seats empty during the match as spectators watching the first-round clash between the host nation and Ecuador left early.

The Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, which can hold up to 60,000 people, had thousands of empty seats approaching full-time as Qatari fans left before the full-time whistle tonight.

These were present during the opening ceremony, which saw disgraced actor Morgan Freeman performing with Qatari entrepreneur and influencer Ghanim al Muftah.

While the stadium appeared to fill up in time for kick-off, the empty seats reappeared during the second half of the match, with many spectators choosing to leave early. 

The match itself saw Ecuador beat the hosts 2-0, with captain Enner Valencia scoring both goals for the South Americans, who were cheered on by a vociferous travelling support.

The move will spark concerns about enthusiasm for the tournament in the country, which has a population of less than three million and is roughly half the size of Wales. 

It is estimated the country has spent £184 billion bidding to host the event and building seven new stadiums, all of which can hold at least 40,000 people.

In the country’s capital of Doha, 50km to the south, the streets were largely quiet, although there were chaotic scenes both inside and outside the fan festival at Al Bidda Park an hour before kick-off after organisers allowed too many fans to flood the precinct.

In another controversy, Qatar banned the sale of beer in stadiums on Friday in a stunning about-face, meaning many of Doha’s bars and nightclubs – one of the rare places fans can get alcohol – were packed with crowds and had their tables fully booked on Sunday as the tournament kicked off. 

There were empty seats between fans in the stadium during the opening match of tournament between Qatar and Ecuador

Fans leave before the final whistle during the Group A match between Ecuador and Qatar in the Al Bayt Stadium this evening

There were plenty of empty seats in the stadium in Al Khor as the hosts fell to a 2-0 defeat to the South American team

Empty seats are seen in the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, during the opening match of the FIFA World Cup this evening

Ecuador fans in the Al Bayt stadium celebrate as their team takes the lead against Qatar in the opening match of the FIFA World Cup this evening

Qatar fans were seen walking up the stairs to leave the Al Bayt stadium while the match was still taking place after Ecuador took a two goal lead

Rows of empty seats were seen in the stands before the final whistle during the opening match between Ecuador and Qatar tonight

A man sat in the midst of rows of empty seats reacts during the opening fixture of the FIFA World Cup tonight

General view of the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 group A Opening Match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, 20 November

Many seats behind the camera could be seen lying empty as the opening ceremony featuring Morgan Freeman took place

There were scores of empty seats in the stadium during the opening ceremony of FIFA World Cup ahead of the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador

Rows of empty seats were visible behind Morgan Freeman as he narrates the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Qatar

People watched fireworks at the Corniche sea promenade in Doha tonight after the opening match to the FIFA World Cup

Tens of thousands of people watch the opening game of the World Cup on big screens in the Qatar Fan Festival in Al Bidda Park in Doha

Big screens in Al Bidda Park in the Qatari capital of Doha show the opening match of the FIFA World Cup to tens of thousands of viewers

The Al Bidda Park has a capacity of 40,000 but at least double that number of people tried to make their way in and for a long time many were let into a holding area between the main festival park and the perimeter entrance.

Police realised the problem and had to shepherd irate supporters back out of the venue.

‘It was dangerous,’ one fan carrying a child aged nearly four, who had exited the holding area, told Reuters.

‘They let too many people in. We never made it into the main area and I was glad to leave.’

The police took about 45 minutes to clear the excess fans from the area.

Tournament organisers the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Frustrated local fans, volunteers and media were visibly upset with the police, but supporters of other countries appeared more understanding.

While there was chaos in the holding area, the scene inside the park seemed pleasant, with Brazilian fans Andrea Nascimento and Raphael de Jesus appreciating the atmosphere.

‘I think Qatar will be a great host. Now that the games are starting, the vibe is building,’ Jesus said.

‘This is my third World Cup after 2014 and 2018, and so far everything has been very well organised.’

He described it as ‘a party involving many countries of the world. The world needs this because there are so many problems right now and sport brings people together.’

Qatar has faced a barrage of criticism over its treatment of foreign workers, LGBT rights and social restrictions, staking its reputation on delivering a smooth tournament. The country has denied accusations of abuse of workers and discrimination. 

Before the match disgraced actor Morgan Freeman kicked off the opening ceremony by performing with Qatari entrepreneur and influencer Ghanim al Muftah.

The actor, 85, who four years ago apologised following accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, today narrated the event’s opening segment titled ‘The Calling’, telling viewers ‘We all gather here in one big tribe’ as fans descended on Doha city centre for the imminent kick off of the world’s greatest football festival.

Qatar has faced a barrage of criticism over its treatment of foreign workers, LGBT rights and social restrictions, staking its reputation on delivering a smooth tournament. The country has denied accusations of abuse of workers and discrimination.

Freeman spoke with 20-year-old Qatari entrepreneur and influencer Ghanim al Muftah – a FIFA World Cup Ambassador who was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, a rare disorder which impairs the development of the lower spine – who said to the actor: ‘Come on over.’

Former England captain David Beckham, who has come under criticism for his role as an ambassador for Qatar, was pictured in one of the executive boxes at the stadium tonight

Disgraced actor Morgan Freeman (left) performed the opening segment with World Cup ambassador and Qatari citizen Ghanim al-Muftah (right)

Aritsts perform during the opening ceremony before the World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor , Qatar

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani waves to the crowd as he arrives with FIFA President Gianni Infantino for the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor

FIFA president Gianni Infantino (centre) was seen shaking the hand of Qatar’s former Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (left) at the stadium this evening

South Korean singer Jung Kook performs during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) chats with President of FIFA Gianni Infantino (L) at a reception hosted by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for the opening ceremony of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar on November 20

Dancers perform during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor

Performers perform during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20

A drummer performs during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20

Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

Three Camels, together with their handlers during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2022 at the Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor. Picture date: Sunday November 20, 2022

Dancers perform during the opening ceremony ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group A football match between Qatar and Ecuador at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on November 20

Former Argentina and World Cup winner Diego Maradona is seen on the big screen during the opening ceremony prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20

When Freeman replied ‘I’m not sure, Am I welcome?’, al Muftah said: ‘We sent out the call because everyone is welcome. This is an invitation to the whole world.’

Freeman replied: ‘I remember, even after hearing the call, instead of seeing another way, we dismissed it and demanded our own way. And now the world feels even more distant and divided. How can so many countries, languages and cultures come together, if only one way is accepted?’

His appearance comes four years after he was accused of sexual misconduct by eight women and issued an apology to ‘anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected’ by his behaviour, saying it was ‘never my intent’.

Sixteen people – eight witnesses and eight who claimed to be victims – had come forward to allege the actor engaged in ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and ‘harassment’ as they worked alongside him.

Football fans have reacted with fury on social media at the actor’s appearance in the ceremony, with one calling it ‘disappointing’ and another saying: ‘When you have to act out a scene with Morgan Freeman ”welcoming the entire world” to your country for a soccer tournament, maybe you shouldn’t host the World Cup.’ 

In Britain, broadcasters chose not to show the ceremony, instead showing a pre-packaged report on Qatar’s questionable human rights record and the controversy surrounding the tournament – meaning fans missed out on much of the spectacle.

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