Robbie Williams helped to ensure that the 2018 World Cup in Russia opened with a bang after he was seen to raise his middle finger at the camera during his performance at the opening ceremony.

The 44 year old English singer was chosen by FIFA to take part in the grand opening of the 2018 World Cup before the tournament’s first match in Moscow on Thursday night (June 14th) – surprisingly, given that Williams was censured by the Russian government just a few years ago for stereotyping the country in his track ‘Party Like A Russian’.

He performed a medley of some of his biggest hits, including ‘Angels’ and ‘Let Me Entertain You’, during the show, but during a rendition of ‘Rock DJ’ he seemed to spot a TV camera and then gestured to it with his middle finger up at it while smiling for a fleeting moment.

It’s not known why Williams opted to do this, and he hasn’t commented on it since, but many have speculated that it was because of his support for LGBT rights and therefore a reference to Russia’s reactionary legal stance on gay rights. Russia’s divisive president Vladimir Putin was thought to have been in the stadium at the time, but had not taken his seat yet.

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Whatever the reason behind it, the incident was enough to prompt the ceremony’s American broadcaster Fox to issue an apology to those who were offended by it.

Robbie WilliamsRobbie Williams performing in 2017

“The 2018 FIFA World Cup opening ceremony was a newsworthy event produced by a third party and carried live on Fox,” a statement read, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “As it was broadcast live, we did not know what would happen during Robbie Williams' performance and we apologise.”

It was no less explosive and surprising than the match itself. Russia took on Saudi Arabia in Group A, a contest between the tournament’s two worst teams on paper, but the hosts put a year of poor form behind them to thrash an abysmal Saudi team 5-0.

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