The single largest event in human history must be the soccer or FIFA (world football association) “World Cup” tournament every four years. While precise numbers are still being crunched, there are several reliable estimates confirming that over 5 Billion viewers watched the tournament. Yes, five billion out of eight billion human beings watched it.
To put this into perspective, the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro
(2016) drew 3.6 billion viewers across 17 days while the 2020 Games in Tokyo, which was hosted in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, garnered 3.05 billion.
The FIFA World Cup’s ascendancy is not difficult to understand. A total of 192 nations play the qualifying matches throughout the four-year interval between
World Cups. By the time the top 32 teams qualify for the tournament, high levels of excitement and anticipation have been generated with global audiences
riveted to the outcome of every game. Interest in the “beautiful game” has continued to grow with new records being continuously broken.
It is both a global and a local phenomenon.
Consider for example that on Thursday 24 November in Korea Republic, 11.14 million people watched their tournament opener against Uruguay. The broadcast saw a 97% increase in TV audience compared to the average for group stage
matches at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
Fans in Europe have also been tuning in for the second round of group stage matches in great numbers. On Sunday 28 November, 65% of people watching
TV in Spain saw La Roja take on Germany in one of the most anticipated games of the tournament. 11.9 million was the combined audience across coverage on La1 and GOL MUNDIAL, exceeding the audience of any group stage game for any previous FIFA World Cup.
Incredibly, over three quarters (76.6%) of all people watching TV in the
Netherlands witnessed Cody Gakpo’s wonder strike in their 1-1 draw with
Ecuador. This was the highest TV audience in the country in 2022 and greater than any previous match during the FIFA World Cup.
In France, Les Bleus’ encounter with Denmark, was broadcast on TF1. Averaging an audience of 11.6 million viewers, the audience peaked in the closing minutes of the match as 14.56 million watched Kylian Mbappe score a late winner. This was the highest peak of the tournament in France.
Portugal’s match with Uruguay on Monday 28 November was the highest TV audience in Portugal ever. In total, 5.35 million viewers in Portugal watched at least one minute of coverage as the team progressed to the knockout stages.
The coverage held an audience share of 69.5% as the Seleção got their second win in as many games at the tournament. Over 80% of the Portuguese TV
landscape has now watched at least one minute of the tournament’s coverage.
The English-language coverage of USA’s encounter with England on Friday 25 November was the most watched men’s football match on US television ever,
with a peak audience of 19.65 million viewers on FOX. NBC-Universal’s Spanish- language coverage of the match on Telemundo was the second-most watched
FIFA World Cup group stage match featuring a United States team in Spanish- language history.
The following day, as Argentina and Mexico met in a crucial Group C tie, the
Telemundo broadcast in the US was the most-watched FIFA World Cup Group Stage match in Spanish-language history in the country, and the second largest of any stage, ever.
In addition, the average audience in Canada for their make-or-break tie with Croatia was 4.33 million, with a share of 68.4%. This was 17% higher than
Canada’s opening match and 12% higher than the top combined audience in the territory for the 2018 tournament.
Passion for the game in South America knows no bounds with fans unsurprisingly as engaged as ever. In Argentina, the average audience for the two-time winners of the FIFA World Cup in their pivotal match with Mexico was
8.48 million; delivering an amazing audience share of 81.3%. The audience was the highest of the tournament so far in the country and 5% higher than both their
first match against Saudi Arabia, and the average audience for their group stage matches during previous FIFA World Cups.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, coverage of the same match delivered a national audience of 20.96 million viewers. The combined share across three channels broadcasting the game was 67.9%. This was higher than the top combined rating in the territory for any match of any previous FIFA World Cup. Note that Mexico has hosted the games in the past!
New audiences in Africa emerged as Croatia defeated Morocco, 2-1, to claim the bronze medal. Morocco symbolized so much for so many! For the first time in history, a team from the African federation, an Arab team that is also a team from an Islamic state reached this level of the competition and created a massive new audience for Football. This was a very fitting outcome for a tournament held in Arab, and Islamic Qatar!
The final contest turned out to be a classic duel between two of the best players, Lionel Messi of Argentina and Kylian Mbappe of France. The contest lasted for 120 minutes, as the two sides battled to a 3-all draw. Argentina prevailed by a score of 4-2, in the penalty shootout.
Lionel Messi, Argentina’s super-star, emerged as an unassailable hero, achieving the single title he had never been capable of winning during his
incredible career – propelling him to become one of the highest paid athlete in the world – accompanied by other soccer stars: Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Neymar de Silva Santos Junior of Brazil and Kylian Mbappe.
These record-breaking audience figures suggest that this World Cup has been a tremendous success, but there was plenty of behind the scenes drama. There
was many twists, thrills, and shocks in the initial stages to the thrill of the elimination rounds. But that’s not exactly how it played out (excuse the pun). There was a lot of controversy.
As Qatar hosted this World Cup, many celebrities refused to sing at the opening ceremony of the Fifa 2022 World cup. It stunned many fans when celebrities like Shakira and Dua Lipa refused to participate in that ceremony.
Dua Lipa has openly said that she had no plans to sing at the Qatar stadium at the inauguration ceremony due to Dua Lipa disliking Arab nation policies against the LGBTQ community.
None of the ceremony would have been possible without a music soundtrack to accompany the ‘show’! The soundtrack to the event was provided by Trinidad Cardona, Davido and Aisha with a song titled “Hayya Hayya (Better Together)”; Shakira with Waka Waka – This time for Africa; and Nicki Minaj, Maluma and
Myriam Fares with Tukoh Taka – the Official FIFA Fan Festival™ Anthem. All played on the Bomdigiddy Global count down show!
Strangely, singer and songwriter Shakira declined to perform at the ceremony. Other artists such as Rod Stewart too declined to perform as well saying that the main issue was Qatar’s reputation with human rights. Stewart also said that Iranians should not be allowed to participate as they are supplying weapons to Russia (in its war with Ukraine).
The BBC Refused to Cover (Host Nation) Qatar’s Opening Ceremony
After spending a record $300 Billion dollars to build stadiums and infrastructure to host this event, the opening ceremony was supposed to be a ‘crowning’ event placing Qatar on a world stage. Qatar had signed up Korean supergroup BTS Jungkook, Morgan and a dozen artists. Qatar had hoped that global media would turn its attention away from its history of human right violation and towards a
more positive message involving sports.
But the BBC criticized Qatar’s abuse of overseas workers, spotlighted fraud within FIFA (in its award of the tournament to Qatar), and explored Qatar’s LGBTQ ban – and decided not to cover the opening ceremony.
List of Key Events during FIFA’s 2022 World Cup
It was a thrilling tournament! There were many upsets, surprises and headlines. Here is a retrospective list of important events.
First World Cup Held in November in the Persian Gulf
First Football World Cup in the Gulf Region It’s the first time in the history of the World Cup that it has been hosted in the Persian Gulf region – and held during the winter.
Saudi Arabia Won
On the 3rd day of tournament, Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina (the eventual champions) 2-1! It seemed like Argentina’s campaign might be completely derailed! This was so huge for the Saudi nation, that the crown prince announced a public holiday! The world was shocked. But Argentina fought back and eventually prevailed out of the group stages of the tournament.
Host Nation – Qatar – banned “Rainbow” Armbands
To protest Qatar’s severe mistreatment of its LGBTQ+ population, numerous European players, notably England and Germany, decided to wear rainbow armbands. However, tournament organizers warned that anyone wearing these bands would be given immediate yellow cards.
This anti-LGBTQ+ vigilance went further, with Grant Wahl, an American sports journalist, reporting that authorities momentarily stopped him at the US-Wales game after trying to get inside wearing a rainbow-colored jersey. Sadly, Grant Wahl collapsed soon after the game – adding more controversy to the tournament and its TV coverage.
Australia Qualified Out of Group Stages
Despite missing their opening game to winners France, Australia achieved a record by entering the World Cup knockout rounds with victories over Tunisia and Denmark. Mathew Leckie’s brilliant strike in the Denmark game will be forever remembered as one Australia’s national team’s most iconic goals.
Morocco Marks The History
The number of nations who have advanced to the semi-final of the World Cup have historically been limited to Europe and Latin America. Morocco made history as the inaugural African country to reach the World Cup semi-finals in 2022. It had achieved so following a quarter-final victory against Portugal. Sadly, they were defeated in the semi-finals by France.
Portugal’s Coach Shocked Everyone by Not playing Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the world’s leading players, was left off the opening game for Portugal’s and two other games.
Iranian National Team Refused to Sing Their National Anthem
Before the World Cup started, Iran had been mired with mass demonstrations pushing back against Iran’s theocratic and autocratic regime. In response, Iran’s regime had responded violently. Iran’s national football team members made their feelings known during every opening ceremony for their games. They stood silent as their flag was raised and their national anthem was played. And, in the stadium, Iranian supporters protested by bringing anti-regime placards.
Favorite’s Brazil were eliminated in the Quarter Finals
It is always a joy to watch Brazil play. With incredible acrobatics, and foot skills Brazilian players almost dance with the ball. On paper, Brazil’s team was among the most valued teams – with many of their stars playing for major teams around the world. They were widely regarded as favorites, only to lose to Croatia on penalties 4-2 in their quarter-final clash. The match had finished goalless after normal time. It was a tragic outcome for not only the team, but a nation that lives for its national team.
Argentina Rose From a Shaky Start
Argentina recovered from a shaky start to the campaign with two big victories over Poland and Mexico. They went into their group 2 stage encounter against Mexico, understanding that defeat would prematurely kill their World Cup chances. The team visibly improved and became more cohesive as the tournament progressed.
Japan Defeated Germany
Japan stunned Germany in the opening stages of the tournament. Much like Argentina, Germany’s first World Cup match was a disaster. The 2014 champions were humiliated by Japan. Germany never truly recovered from this loss, and only garnered mediocre outcomes from its two follow-on games –
which resulted in Germany being sent home after the initial group stages of the tournament.
Senegal Made the History
In one of the opening games of the tournament, Senegal beat host nation, Qatar, 3-1 in Group A! And soon after, Senegal emerged as the first African nation to qualify for the second round of the competition. Along with Morocco and
Cameroon, the African federation has emerged as a powerhouse in this sport.
Drama in Groups G and H
In group G, Serbia faced Cameroon in a dramatic game. With Serbia being 3-1 ahead at half time, the game ended in a draw as Cameroon battled their way back into the game. Eric Maxim and Vincent each scored twice in three minutes to tie the score and earn a crucial point in the fight to advance out of Group G.
And in group H, Ghana played Korea. Ghana led at half time. But the Korean players demonstrated tenacity, claw their way back into the game. Ghana’s Kudus then scored a second goal to break Korean hearts.
Qatar National Team Supporters Left During Their Games
The host nation itself did not participate well in the tournament itself. Qatar has never been a sports or indeed a soccer powerhouse. It lacks an established sports tradition or culture. In fact, had it not hosted the tournament, it is unlikely that Qatar would have played in the tournament.
In its opening game against Ecuador, Qatar lost 2-0. And at half-time despite it being the opening game of the tournament, the stands were half empty. It was embarrassing for a host nation.
Qatar Outlawed Alcohol
Despite having promised FIFA that it would allow fans to consume alcohol, and despite the fact that Budweidser had paid literally millions of dollars to sponsor the event – at the very last minute, Qatar’s tournament organizers canceled alcohol sales (limiting sales to a restricted fan area outside stadiums).
All this made fans who had traveled there angry. In the opening game, against Qatar, Ecuadorian fans vented their displeasure with a chant screaming that “we want a beer.” Let’s not forget that Qatar’s climate (even during this winter tournament) is hot!
Qatar Corruption Allegations Hung Over the Tournament
Corruption allegations simply do not seem to disappear from conversations on the Qatar world cup – with all kinds of theories on who they paid off on the selection committee!
Qatar has no sports tradition. Qatar’s national team have never qualified for the tournament and would never have qualified to play if they were not a host nation. The country’s population is very small population – too small to physically attend major sports events! In fact, Qatar is among the richest and most obese nations on the planet. Almost half of Qatar is medically diagnosed as obese. Sports is completely – diametrically out of phase with Qatari culture.
Qatar’s selection as a host nation remains a big mystery.
The Final Round
The tournament for the host nation, was in so many was a flop. Yet global audience numbers completely contradict this conclusion. The tournament’s drama with the elimination of champions like Brazil and Germany kept audiences interested. With countries like Morocco qualifying huge audiences that historically did not follow the tournament suddenly switched on. Also, a major consideration, was Qatar’s state-of-the-art broadcasting infrastructure – as the home nation of Al-Jazeera TV which was able to relay high quality images globally; complemented by Qatar’s state-of-the-art airport and airline system – with Doha having emerged as a major global aviation hub making media access very feasible. This clearly led to a well-oiled media campaign.
But content is king! And more than anything a dramatic end to the tournament led to huge global interest.
France beat Morocco to reach the final. And Argentina defeated Croatia. The final itself was a big game between the two major ‘football’ countries. It was filled with suspense. It could not have been scripted more dramatically. The two-act theater play – that football has become – delivered a fantastic show. The game was dazzling. It was a nail-biting event with Argentina scoring and then in the final stages France coming back several times to draw the game – taking the game to extra time and then penalties.
It was Messi, in the end, who provided a glorious victory for Argentina. It was his final matches as he comes closer to retirement. Not to be forgotten are his
incredible teammates – especially Argentina’s stunning goalkeeper who saved several penalties to hand the game to Argentina.
Let’s Not forget Argentina’s Topless Fans
Tourists visiting Qatar for the Fifa 2022 World Cup are obliged to adhere to the country’s traditional gender norms. As a result, travelers are required to wear shirts that cover their shoulders, gowns or trousers that cover their knees, etc.
In a crazy moment in the final game celebrations in the stadium (and according to many reports back in Argentina itself) female Argentine fans disobeyed Qatar’s hijab rules and went topless! When Lionel Messi lifted the trophy, a female fan
ripped her top off and began waving her Argentina jersey!
Qatar authorities quickly warned and quickly announced a public code of conduct that directed the fans not to go shirtless! Still, at least one fan lost control over her emotions. Photographs of the woman went viral!
This world cup, hosted by Qatar, turned out to be one of the most interesting and dramatic. It broke records, it was controversial, it was nail biting – but ultimately it presented not just the host nation, but a global audience with fundamental questions about human values, religious customs, and global integration to answer through sports enabled by modern communication technology.
It was a unique global cultural event.