Qatar opens football's 2022 World Cup with message of inclusion
It wasn't the biggest moment of Sunday's seven-act World Cup opening ceremony ahead of the match between the host country and Ecuador.
The largest cheers were reserved for the Middle East and African leaders watching from their luxury suites in Bedouin-tent inspired Al Bayt Stadium.
In fact, it was Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani who drew a thunderous applause in a short speech delivered in Arabic from the suite.
He was seated between FIFA President Gianni Infantino and his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who secured the World Cup for the tiny Gulf nation 12 years ago.
"How beautiful it is for people to put aside what divides them in order to celebrate their diversity and what brings them together at the same time," Sheikh Tamim said, his words translated into English on a video screen inside the stadium.
"I wish all the participating teams a magnificent football performance, high sportsmanship, and a time full of joy, excitement and delight for you all," he continued.
"And let there be days that are inspiring with goodness and hope."
He then said: "I welcome you and good luck to all," in his only words spoken in English.
Sheikh Hamad, viewed as the moderniser of Qatar during his 18 years as ruler, further delighted the crowd by autographing an official World Cup shirt handed to him by his son.
He then held the shirt up to the crowd.
Qatar, home to 3 million people, most of them migrant workers, has spent more than $200 billion on preparation for the World Cup.
Seven new stadiums were built, including the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium north of Doha.
The opening ceremony was meant to introduce Qatar to the world through its culture with a theme of "bridging distances".
Creative director Ahmad Al Baker wanted the ceremony to signify "a gathering for all mankind, an invitation to come together as one, bridging all differences with humanity, respect and inclusion".
It hit the mark when Sheikh Tamim was joined in the stadium suite by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, two leaders who had boycotted Qatar for years over allegations rejected by Doha.
Not present were the leaders of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the two other nations involved in the boycott, which ended in January last year.
Also in attendance were UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Senegalese President Macky Sall, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
Kuwait’s crown prince came, along with the director-general of the World Health Organization and Djibouti’s president.
Also present was Jordan's King Abdullah II.
Singer Jungkook of K-pop boy band BTS joined Qatari singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi to perform Dreamers, a new tournament song.
Then came remarks from Infantino, who spoke in Arabic, Spanish and finally English to officially open the tournament.
"Dear friends, welcome, welcome, to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022," Infantino said in English.
"Welcome to celebrate football because football unites the world. And now let’s welcome the teams and let the show begin."
As The Business by Tiesto blasted over the speakers, Qatar and Ecuador took to the field and the World Cup officially began.
The opening of the tournament was the culmination of 12 years of preparations that have transformed Qatar and have also exposed it to a barrage of criticism, including over human rights.
Officials from Qatar and FIFA and celebrities involved in the tournament have hit back at detractors, arguing that Doha has been unfairly singled out for criticism.