A view of the Education City Stadium in Doha, Qatar, March 4, 2020. (Photos: VCG)
Qatar inaugurated its latest new World Cup stadium on Monday not with a sold-out football fixture, but with a socially-distanced tribute to the workers on the front line of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra musicians sporting masks and gloves surrounded by candles played a soaring orchestral piece on the turf of the new Education City Stadium in a clip broadcast to mark the stadium's opening.
It was interspersed with images of medical professionals and other frontline workers who made their way through the 40,000-capacity ground, which was shown with eerily empty stands, to applause from the Qatar national team.
"This is all a message of hope. And really, a big thank you to frontline workers around the world," Nasser al-Khater, the chief executive of the 2022 World Cup, said after the inauguration.
"It's a small token of appreciation to them."
Education City is the second of the seven stadiums being built from scratch for the 2022 tournament to be inaugurated.
It had been due to host the semifinal of the Club World Cup on December 18, but its opening was postponed because of delays to certification. It has yet to host a public fixture.
Players of Liverpool celebrate after winning the FIFA Club World Cup at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, December 21, 2019.
In April, COVID-19 cases were confirmed in workers at three of the stadiums under construction, highlighting the difficulty of preventing the virus' spread among laborers living and working in close proximity.
Nasser insisted that "more than 80 percent" of the infrastructure required for 2022 was now complete.
Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary general of the Qatari organization charged with delivering the tournament, said finishing the stadium amid the pandemic had been "a big challenge."
"But we managed to overcome it," he said.
"We were able to maintain the continuity of work in a positive way, but at the same time ensure a safe and healthy environment for everyone."
Alongside the musical tribute, a pyrotechnic show both inside and outside the stadium was used to mark its completion.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino speaks at the 44th UEFA Congress in Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 3, 2020.
In a video message for the opening, FIFA president Gianni Infantino paid tribute to those "who are still fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic."
"The new stadium in Education City reminds us that football will return," he said.
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani used his clip to honor "the teams working on the front line."
"We truly believe in better days to come, the days when we will enjoy watching the stars of the game together," he said.
The Education City ground, named for the surrounding university and research campuses, will host fixtures through to the quarterfinals.
A general view of Al-Janoub Stadium in Doha, Qatar, December 16, 2019.
After the tournament, half of its 40,000 seats will be donated to build stadiums in developing countries.
The organizers of the first World Cup to be staged in the Middle East faced fresh questions last week over the treatment of foreign laborers working on tournament projects.
Rights group Amnesty revealed that around a hundred sub-contractors at the flagship Al-Bayt stadium had not been paid wages for up to seven months.
Authorities banned the sub-contractor, which was recently sold to new owners, from all World Cup projects.
Two and a half years before the World Cup kicks off, Qatar has already launched the brand new 40,000-capacity Al-Janoub Stadium and the refurbished Khalifa International ground.