MarketWatch First Take: ‘We gather here as one big tribe’: Controversial Qatar World Cup kicks off

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The Qatar World Cup, which is mired in controversy, kicked off Sunday with the host nation losing 2-0 to Ecuador after a glitzy opening ceremony that featured Morgan Freeman and K-Pop star Jung Kook.

With the eyes of the world on Qatar, the opening ceremony at Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor was reminiscent of the Olympics, offering a glimpse into the tiny gulf nation’s history and culture, and emphasizing themes such as “respect” and “unity.”

“We gather here as one big tribe,” said Freeman.

See: Qatar World Cup controversy means sponsors are walking a tightrope

The plight of migrant workers in Qatar, along with LGBTQ+ rights in the Gulf state, has sparked a backlash against the tournament long before a ball was even kicked.

British star Rod Stewart recently told The Times that he turned down over $ 1 million to perform at the World Cup. “It’s not right to go,” he said.

Singer Dua Lipa recently denied reports she would be performing at the World Cup.

See also: ‘Well, this is awkward’: Qatar bans beer sales at World Cup stadiums, surprising sponsor Budweiser

World soccer’s governing body FIFA has estimated that over one million people will attend the World Cup’s 64 games. The World Cup final takes place on Dec. 18 at Lusail Stadium north of the Qatari capital Doha.

But the criticism of Qatar, which is the first Arab nation to host a World Cup, has reached a crescendo in recent months. During a press conference Saturday, FIFA president Gianni Infantino launched into a lengthy defense of the decision to host the World Cup in Qatar, and accused the West of “hypocrisy.”

The Qatar World Cup is also the first to take place in the northern hemisphere’s winter. Traditionally, World Cups take place during the summer, but this year’s tournament was moved to avoid Qatar’s searing heat.

See Now: Budweiser shrugs off Qatar stadium beer ban, tweets new World Cup campaign

Branding experts have warned that the controversial Qatar World Cup poses challenges for the big-name corporations involved in the event. FIFA’s list of partners includes U.S. corporate titans Coca-Cola Co.  KO, +0.71% and Visa Inc. V, -0.09%,  who will both be involved in the Qatar event. McDonald’s Corp. MCD, +0.00% and are also signed up as World Cup sponsors.

In an abrupt reversal Friday, Qatar World Cup organizers banned beer sales in the tournament’s eight stadiums just two days before the start of the soccer showpiece. The decision appeared to surprise World Cup beer sponsor Budweiser, which is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev BUD, +0.95%.

“Well, this is awkward …” Budweiser reportedly tweeted Friday, before deleting it.

See Now: As Qatar bans beer in stadiums, World Cup sponsor Budweiser touts promotional efforts in other countries

On Saturday Budweiser tweeted a new campaign tied to the tournament.

In May, Amnesty International, along with 23 other organizations, wrote an open letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino urging a “remedy for labor abuses behind the 2022 World Cup.”

The death toll of construction workers in Qatar remains firmly in the spotlight, with Amnesty International describing thousands of migrant worker deaths since 2010. The deaths cited by Qatar are significantly less and the country’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy described Amnesty’s May letter as inaccurate.

Related: In Qatar, is it legal to drink alcohol?

“Over the past two decades, Qatar has initiated an overhaul of its labor system, with extensive action taken to benefit the millions of workers in our country,” said a Qatari government official, in a statement recently emailed to MarketWatch.

Fox Sports, which is owned by Fox Corporation FOX, +1.04%,  the sister company of Dow Jones parent News Corp. NWS, -0.76%  , has broadcast rights to the Qatar World Cup.