British pop star Robbie Williams stuck his middle finger at the camera while performing on the field before the opening game of the FIFA World Cup in Moscow on Thursday. The gesture was produced while Williams was singing "Rock DJ" at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
Russia played Saudi Arabia in the opening game of the tournament. The game was being shown live to an expected global television audience of hundreds of millions.
Williams who campaigns for LGBT rights, was criticised for agreeing to perform in a country where the stance on gay persons is outdated.
At the opening ceremony, Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed the "friendly global family" of football fans to celebrate the World Cup, hitting a unifying note to start the tournament.
With geopolitical tensions running high between Russia and the West, Putin sought to dispel his country's reputation as isolated and repressive. He hailed his "hospitable and friendly country" and urged visiting fans to meet new friends and people who share the same values.
As the Russian national team met Saudi Arabia in the opening match in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, he said "unity defies differences in language, ideology or faith."
Critics fear Putin will use the tournament to legimitise Russian authorities' crackdown on Opposition and some minorities.
Cheers of "Ro-si-ya, Ro-si-ya!" or "Russia, Russia!" roared through the stadium as he spoke. FIFA president Gianni Infantino addressed the crowd in Russian and said "football will conquer the entire world" during the cup.
It's the first time Russia is hosting the FIFA World Cup.
(With inputs from AP)
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