Stadium security and the public in the days since the World Cup kicked off on Sunday American and Welsh fans have been asked to hide rainbow-themed items from public view in official zones and on the subway, fans said. In some cases, fans said they were denied entry to matches unless the rainbow-themed signs were removed, but others reported that they could carry the rainbow sign into stadiums without issue.
FIFA officials have been trying for years to allay fears that LGBTQ fans who traveled to Qatar, a conservative Muslim country that punishes homosexuality with prison terms, would face discrimination. “Let me repeat it clearly: everyone will be welcome at the tournament, regardless of origin, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said a month before the tournament began. Other FIFA officials and the head of Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee.
Questioning people wearing rainbow flags raised the possibility that official guidance on symbol sanctioning had not trickled down to the large army of volunteers and staff attending the tournament; Or fearing a backlash from conservatives, Qatar has reversed course and is cracking down.
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 staving off the LGBTQ symbol. On Monday, the soccer teams representing seven European nations at the World Cup announced that their captains would not wear the rainbow armband in Qatar after Fifa said they would fine players for wearing the band. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken criticized FIFA’s decision during a visit to Doha, calling it “concerning”.
Neither FIFA nor Qatari officials immediately responded to a request to clarify what guidelines exist for fans who want to display the rainbow symbol in official tournament zones and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf state, where sex between men is illegal.
Former Wales professional soccer player Laura McAllister Tweeted Security officials denied entry to a FIFA stadium on Monday after wearing rainbow-themed supporters’ hats. In an interview with ITV News, McAllister said officials told him the rainbow symbol was prohibited.
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“When we got to security, some security guards said we had to take off our hats. When I asked them why, they said, ‘We are not allowed to wear it in the stadium because it is a banned symbol,'” she said. “They insisted that they wouldn’t let us into the stadium unless I took off my hat.” Finally she was able to get in by hiding her hat.
In another incident before the same match, American football writer Grant Wahl said he was stopped by a security guard for wearing a rainbow shirt. Wall later said he was detained for half an hour in an “unnecessary ordeal” but was eventually allowed into the stadium. “Go away, gays,” he wrote on Twitter Sharing a picture of the shirt, along with a rainbow emoji.
According to guidelines shared by FIFA last week, soccer fans have been advised that they are free to express their identity without repercussion in official tournament zones. “No danger; They are welcome to express themselves; They are welcome to show their love for their partners,” Gerdin Lindhout, FIFA’s head of fan experience, 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 official tournament zones where the rules were unclear.
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On Monday, soccer fan Justin Martin said he was repeatedly confronted by fellow subway passengers as he traveled to the Wales-US match carrying a small rainbow flag. Five people asked him to remove the entire sign from view during the subway ride, Justin Martin told The Washington Post in a telephone interview, adding that one passenger was physically assaulted when he refused to cover the flag.
Martin, a journalism professor who lives in Qatar, said he does not identify as LGBTQ and held the symbol as a show of support for marginalized groups when other passengers repeatedly asked him to remove it.
“I was standing on the train with my phone and the emblem in my hand. I was approached by two young FIFA volunteers wearing maroon T-shirts with ‘Volunteer’ written on the back and they encouraged me to put the flag aside to respect the local culture. When he refused, one of the apparent volunteers became enraged and called him “disgusting,” says Martin.
Minutes later, another passenger angrily demanded the small sign be removed again, becoming agitated and using his body to intimidate Martin when he refused. “He physically got to my place and I was pushed into the door of the train,” said Martin, who followed him around the subway car while the man filmed him.
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A football fan who witnessed the exchange confirmed Martin’s account of the altercation to The Post in an exclusive interview.
Two other members of the public also approached Martin during the ride asking for the sign to be removed, Martin added.
“I’m sad. I’m scared to bring my emblem to the USA-England match on Friday,” he said. “It doesn’t make me feel better,” he added, adding that the unsafe experience was not representative of his broader experiences of Qatar.
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The reports add to ongoing pressure on FIFA over its handling of LGBTQ rights and support for the community, with the rainbow becoming a particularly fraught symbol.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken directly criticized the body’s decision to punish World Cup soccer players with yellow cards for wearing rainbow-themed armbands in support of diversity and inclusion – leaving the world’s athletes in an impossible position. Two yellow cards send a player out of the match.
The decision prompted the seven European World Cup captains of England, Wales, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark to ditch their “One Love” armbands in solidarity with LGBTQ people.
“It’s always worrisome in my view when we see restrictions on the freedom of invention; “This is especially true when the rhetoric is about diversity and inclusion,” Blinken said at a joint news conference in the capital Doha with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.
“No one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team,” Blinken said.
Sand report from London; Hudson from Doha, Qatar. Karim Fahim in Doha contributed to this report.
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