Soccer fans wearing rainbow flags confronted at Qatar’s World Cup 2022


Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, said they were refused entry to World Cup stadiums and confronted by citizens to remove the emblem, despite assurances from FIFA, soccer’s governing body, as well as Qatari officials that visitors would be allowed to express their identity during the tournament.

In the days since the start of the World Cup on Sunday, stadium security and citizens American and Welsh fans were asked to hide rainbow-themed items from the public, fans said, in official areas and on the subway. In some cases, fans said they were refused entry to games unless they removed the rainbow-themed emblems, although others said they were able to bring the rainbow symbol into the stadiums without any problems.

FIFA officials have tried for years to allay fears that LGBTQ fans who traveled to Qatar, a conservative Muslim country that punishes homosexuality with prison, would not face discrimination. “Let me make it clear again: everyone will be welcome at the tournament, regardless of their origin, origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said a month before the tournament began, repeating the pledges other FIFA officials as well as the head of the Qatar World Cup organizing committee.

A reported survey of people carrying rainbow flags raised the possibility that official guidelines on allowing the symbols had not reached the vast army of volunteers and employees working at the tournament; or that Qatar, fearing a backlash from conservatives, has changed course and is settling.

But last week, when Qatar reversed an earlier decision and decided to ban the sale of beer outside World Cup stadiums, FIFA released a statement announcing the change. There were no such statements from FIFA or Qatar about the rainbow flag on Tuesday.

FIFA has already faced criticism for suppressing LGBTQ symbols. The soccer teams representing seven European nations at the World Cup announced Monday that their captains will not wear rainbow armbands in Qatar after FIFA said players wearing the armbands would be fined. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized FIFA’s decision during a visit to Doha, calling it “worrying”.

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Neither FIFA nor Qatari officials immediately responded to a request on Tuesday to clarify what guidelines exist for fans who want to display the rainbow symbol both in official tournament zones and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf state, where sex between men is illegal.

Former Welsh professional footballer Laura McAllister tweeted that she was refused entry to the FIFA stadium by security officials on Monday because she was wearing a fan hat with a rainbow motif. McAllister said officials told her the rainbow symbol was banned, according to an interview with ITV News.

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“When we went through security, some of the security guards said we had to take off our hats. When I asked them why, they said ‘because it is a forbidden symbol and we are not allowed to wear it in the stadium,’” she said. “They insisted that we were not allowed to enter the stadium unless I took off my hat. She eventually managed to get in by hiding her hat.

In a separate incident before the same game, American soccer writer Grant Wahl said he was stopped by a security guard for wearing a shirt with a rainbow on it. Wahl later said he was held for half an hour in “unnecessary torture” but was eventually released into the stadium. “Go gays,” he he wrote on Twitter with a rainbow emoji image, sharing a picture of the shirt.

According to guidelines shared by FIFA just last week, soccer fans have been advised to be free to express their identity within official tournament zones without repercussions. “There is no risk; they are welcome to express themselves; they are welcome to express their love for their partners,” Gerdine Lindhout, FIFA’s head of fan services, told ITV News on Wednesday. “They won’t get in trouble for public displays of affection.”

At the time, FIFA clarified that its guidelines did not apply to areas outside the official tournament zones, where the rules are less clear.

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On Monday, soccer fan Justin Martin said he was repeatedly accosted by fellow subway passengers as he traveled to the Wales-USA game carrying a small rainbow flag, including two men in official FIFA uniforms. Five people asked him to remove the symbol from view during a subway trip, Justin Martin told The Washington Post in a phone interview, and one passenger became physically upset when he refused to hide the flag.

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Martin, a journalism professor who lives in Qatar, said he does not identify as LGBTQ but wore the symbol as a sign of support for marginalized groups when other passengers repeatedly asked him to remove it.

“I was standing on the train with the emblem in my hand, using the phone. I was approached by two young FIFA volunteers wearing maroon t-shirts with ‘volunteer’ written on the back and encouraged me to put the flag away to respect the local culture.” When he refused, Martin says one of the apparent volunteers became upset and described him as “disgusting.”

Minutes later, Martin said, another passenger angrily asked him again to remove the small emblem, also becoming agitated and using his body to intimidate Martin when he refused. “He physically entered my space, and I was pushed against the door of the train,” Martin said, adding that the person then followed him on the subway car while filming him.

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A football fan who witnessed the exchange confirmed Martin’s account of the altercation to The Post in a separate interview.

Two other members of the public also approached Martin while he was on his way to ask him to remove the symbol, Martin added.

“I’m sad. I’m afraid to bring my emblem to the USA-England game on Friday,” he said. “I don’t feel good,” he added, noting that the experience of feeling insecure was not representative of his wider experiences of Qatar.

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The reports add to existing pressure on FIFA over its handling of LGBTQ rights and expressions of support for the community during the tournament, during which the rainbow has become a particularly fraught symbol.

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On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken directly criticized the body’s decision to punish World Cup footballers with yellow cards for wearing rainbow armbands in support of diversity and inclusion – saying it put the world’s athletes in an impossible position. Two yellow cards result in the exclusion of the player from the match.

The decision prompted seven European World Cup captains, England, Wales, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark, to ditch the “OneLove” armbands that show solidarity with LGBTQ people.

“From my perspective, it’s always worrying when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression; it is especially so when it is a term for diversity and inclusion,” Blinken said at a joint press conference in the capital Doha, alongside Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.

“No one on the football field should be forced to choose between upholding these values ​​and playing for their team,” Blinken said.

Sands reported from London; Hudson from Doha, Qatar. Kareem Fahim in Doha contributed to this report.

World Cup in Qatar

We highlight: Saudi Arabia stunned Argentina to open a day that included a win for defending champions France and a pair of draws between Denmark-Tunisia and Mexico-Poland. Here are seven more matches in World Cup history when an underdog overcame the odds for a memorable and stunning defeat.

USMNT: In their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The US men’s national team will face a higher task on Friday against Group B favorites England, who defeated Iran 6- 2.

Qatar Controversy: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, said they were refused entry to World Cup stadiums and confronted by citizens to remove the emblem.

Group Guide: The U.S. men’s national soccer team, led by coach Greg Berhalter and star player Kristijan Pulisic, has qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement over its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a closer look at how all the teams in each group stack up.


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