The BBC pundit Alex Scott wore a rainbow armband as she presented coverage of England’s first match of the Qatar World Cup, in an apparent gesture of solidarity with LGBTQ+ people in a country where same-sex relationships are illegal.
Her decision to wear the OneLove armband – which officially represents a stand against all forms of discrimination – came hours after the England and Wales teams decided not to wear the same armbands after being informed that players could receive yellow cards for breaching Fifa rules on clothing.
Scott’s decision to wear the armband was the latest element of the BBC’s World Cup coverage to be openly critical of the host nation. It follows the corporation’s decision not to air Sunday’s opening ceremony – an elaborate performance featuring Morgan Freeman and the K-pop singer Jungkook – on its main broadcast channel. Millions of BBC One viewers instead saw an extended series of discussions and films criticising Qatar’s human rights record and treatment of migrant workers.
The BBC said the opening ceremony was still available to watch on an online iPlayer feed, while the host Gary Lineker said the change was influenced by the BBC’s desire to show a Women’s Super League game between Chelsea and Tottenham.
The Match of the Day presenter said: “It’s not customary for us to show any World Cup or Euros opening ceremonies in their entirety on BBC One, but do make it available to view on BBC iPlayer, red button and website. Very different, of course, for the Olympics.”
Despite the criticism of Qatar, the allure of free televised football remained strong for the British public. A peak audience of 8 million viewers tuned in for the opening game of the World Cup, in which the hosts, Qatar, lost 2-0 to Ecuador in a turgid match. These overnight ratings, provided by Digital-ido, do not include people watching in public spaces such as pubs or those watching online streams.
The viewing figures for England’s 6-2 demolition of Iran on Monday afternoon are likely to have been substantially higher, with the BBC’s iPlayer streaming service struggling to cope with demand – potentially driven by the large number of people trying to watch the match on their work computers or on mobile phones.
iPlayer has a lengthy lag compared with traditional television – an issue the broadcaster has been working to fix for several years – meaning some viewers were learning about goals from social media and app push alerts before they had seen them on their screens.