In the days following the start of the World Cup on Sunday, stadium security and members of the public asked US and Welsh fans to hide rainbow-themed items from the public, fans said, in official areas and on the Tube. In some cases, fans said they were denied access to matches unless they removed rainbow-themed emblems, although others reported they had been able to take the rainbow symbol to the stadiums without any problem.
FIFA officials have been trying for years to allay fears that LGBTQ fans who have traveled to Qatar, a conservative Muslim state that punishes homosexuality with prison terms, may not face discrimination. “Let me repeat it clearly: everyone will be welcome at the tournament, regardless of race, origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said. , a month before the start of the tournament, echoing promises made by other FIFA officials as well as the head of the Qatar World Cup organizing committee.
Reported questioning of people carrying rainbow flags raised the possibility that official guidelines on clearing the symbol had not been passed on to the tournament’s vast army of volunteers and staff; or that Qatar, fearing a backlash from conservatives, had changed course and was cracking down.
But last week, when Qatar reversed an earlier ruling and moved to ban the sale of beer outside World Cup stadiums, FIFA issued a statement announcing the change. There were no such statements from FIFA or Qatar regarding the rainbow flag on Tuesday.
FIFA was already under fire for stifling the LGBTQ symbol. On Monday, soccer teams representing seven European nations at the World Cup announced their captains would not wear rainbow armbands in Qatar after FIFA said players wearing the stripes would be penalised. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed FIFA’s decision during a visit to Doha, calling it “worrying”.
Neither FIFA nor Qatari officials immediately responded on Tuesday to a request for clarification of the guidelines in place for fans who wished to display the rainbow symbol both in official tournament areas and elsewhere in the state. Persian Gulf, where sex between men is illegal.
Laura McAllister, former professional footballer for Wales tweeted that she was refused entry to a FIFA stadium by security officials on Monday because she was wearing a rainbow-themed fan cap. McAllister said officials told him 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 people said we had to take the hat off. When I asked them why, they said ‘because it was a forbidden symbol and we weren’t allowed to wear it in the stadium’,” she said. “They insisted that unless I took the hat off, we weren’t allowed into the stadium.” She was finally able to enter, hiding the hat.
In another incident before the same game, American football writer Grant Wahl said he was pulled over 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 ordeal” but was eventually allowed into the stadium. “Come on gays”, he wrote on Twitter with a rainbow emoji, sharing an image of the shirt.
Under guidelines shared by FIFA just last week, football fans were told they are free to express their identity in official tournament areas without repercussions. ” There is no risk ; they are invited to express themselves; they are welcome to express their love for their partners,” FIFA Fan Experience Manager Gerdine Lindhout 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 areas, where the rules are less clear.
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On Monday, football fan Justin Martin said he was repeatedly confronted by other Tube passengers as he also walked to the Wales-USA game carrying a small rainbow flag, including by two men wearing official FIFA volunteer uniforms. Five people asked him to remove the symbol from view during the subway ride in total, Justin Martin told The Washington Post in a phone interview, and one passenger became physically agitated when he refused to hide the flag .
Martin, a journalism professor who lives in Qatar, said he did not identify as LGBTQ but wore the symbol as a sign of support for marginalized groups when he was repeatedly asked to remove it by other passengers.
“I was standing on the train with the emblem in my hand, using my phone. I was approached by two young FIFA volunteers wearing maroon colored T-shirts that say ‘volunteer’ on the back and they encouraged me to put the flag away to respect the local culture.When he refused, Martin says one of the apparent volunteers got agitated and described it as “disgusting”.
A few minutes later, Martin said, another passenger again angrily demanded that he 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 into 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 the trip asking him to remove the symbol, Martin added.
“I’m sad. I’m scared to bring my emblem to the USA-England game on Friday,” he said. “It doesn’t make me feel good,” he added, also pointing out that the experience of feeling unsafe was not representative of his broader experiences of Qatar.
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The reports add to existing pressure on FIFA over its handling of LGBTQ rights and expressions of community support during the tournament, during which the rainbow has become a particularly heavy symbol.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken directly criticized the body’s decision to punish World Cup soccer players with yellow cards if they wear rainbow-themed armbands. in favor of diversity and inclusion, saying it put athletes around the world in an impossible position. Two yellow cards lead to the expulsion of a player from the match.
The decision prompted seven European World Cup captains, those of England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark, to drop the ‘OneLove’ armbands in a sign solidarity with LGBTQ people.
“It’s always worrying from my point of view when we see restrictions on freedom of expression; this is especially the case when the phrase is synonymous with diversity and inclusion,” Blinken told a joint press conference in the capital, Doha, alongside Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al- Thani.
“No one on a football pitch should have to choose between supporting 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.
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