In the days when the World Cup began, on Sunday, the security of the stadiums and members of the public American and Welsh fans have been asked to hide rainbow items from public view, fans say, in official and metro areas. In some cases, fans said they were denied entry to games unless they removed the rainbow emblems, although others said they were able to carry the rainbow symbol into stadiums without issue.
FIFA officials have tried for years to allay fears that LGBTQ fans traveling to Qatar, a conservative Muslim country that punishes homosexuality with prison terms, would face discrimination. “Let me repeat clearly: everyone is welcome at this tournament, regardless of their race, origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said a month before the tournament began. other FIFA officials, as well as the chairman of the Qatar World Cup organizing committee.
Questioning people who wear rainbow flags, it is likely that official guidance has not been given to the vast army of volunteers and staff involved in the race; or that Qatar, fearing the reaction of the conservatives, has changed its course and was applying pressure.
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 about the change. There was no such statement on Tuesday from FIFA or Qatar about the rainbow flag.
FIFA has already come under fire for stifling LGBTQ symbolism. The soccer teams representing seven European nations at the World Cup announced on Monday that their captains would not wear rainbow armbands in Qatar after FIFA said players from the groups would be punished. On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized FIFA’s decision during his visit to Doha, calling it “an analysis”.
Neither FIFA nor Qatari authorities immediately responded to a request on Tuesday to specify the guidelines for fans who want to display the rainbow symbol, both in official match areas and elsewhere in the Gulf state, where sex between men is illegal.
Former Welsh professional footballer Laura McAllister tweeted on Monday security officials denied him entry to the FIFA Stadium because he was wearing a rainbow supporters hat. According to an interview with ITV News, McAllister said he was told by officials that the rainbow symbol was prohibited.
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“When we went through security, some of the guards said that we should take off our hats. When I asked them why, they said ‘because it was a banned symbol and we weren’t allowed to wear it in the stadium,'” he said. “They insisted that if I didn’t take the hat, we wouldn’t really be allowed. , to enter the stadium.” He finally managed to enter by hiding his hat.
In a separate incident before the same game, American football writer Grant Wahl said he was stopped by a security guard for wearing a shirt with a rainbow. Wahl later said he was detained for half an hour in an “unnecessary ordeal” but eventually allowed into the stadium. “Go ahead,” he said wrote on Twitter with a rainbow emoji, sharing a picture of a shirt.
According to guidelines issued by FIFA until last week, football fans are advised to express their identity freely in official areas of matches without being affected. “There is no danger; welcome to express; they are welcome to express their love to their partners,” Gerdin Lindhout, FIFA’s head of fan experience, told ITV News Wednesday. “They won’t get in trouble for public displays of affection.”
FIFA clarified at the time that its guidance did not apply to areas outside official competition areas where the rules are less clear.
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On Monday, soccer fan Justin Martin said he was repeatedly confronted by subway passengers flying the rainbow flag, including two wearing the official FIFA-recommended uniform, as he traveled to the Wales v USA game. Justin Martin told The Washington Post in a phone interview that five people asked him to remove the symbol during the subway ride, and that one passenger was physically assaulted when he refused to hide the flag.
Martin, a journalism professor who lives in Qatar, said he does not identify as LGBTQ but carried the symbol as a show of support for marginalized groups when he was repeatedly asked to do so by other passengers.
“I used to stand on the train with the badge in my hand and use my phone. “Two young FIFA volunteers came up to me wearing brown t-shirts with ‘volunteer’ written on the back, and they encouraged me to put up the flag to respect the local culture.” When he refused, Martin says one of the volunteers became angry and called him “disgusting.”
A few minutes later, Martin said, another passenger again angrily asked him to remove the small emblem, also became angry and threatened Martin with his body when he refused. “He physically invaded my space and pushed me against the train door,” Martin said, adding that the person then followed him around 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.
Martin added that two other members of the community also approached Martin during the trip to ask him to remove the code.
“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 stressing that his experience of feeling unsafe doesn’t represent his broader experience in Qatar. .
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The reports add to the ongoing pressure on FIFA over LGBTQ rights and public expressions of support during the tournament, where the rainbow has become a particularly powerful symbol.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken directly criticized the body’s decision to punish World Cup footballers with yellow cards if they wear rainbow armbands in support of diversity and inclusion – saying it had put the world’s athletes in an impossible position. Two yellow cards will result in a player being sent off.
The decision prompted seven European World Cup captains, from England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark, to wear OneLove kits, which show solidarity with LGBTQ people.
“When we see any restrictions on freedom of expression, it’s always a concern from my point of view; This is especially so when the expression is for diversity and inclusion,” Blinken said at a joint news conference in Doha, alongside Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.
“No one on the football field should have to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team,” Blinken said.
Sands reported from London; Hudson from Doha, Qatar. Karim Fahim in Doha contributed to this report.
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