American and Wales fans were asked by stadium security and members of the public to hide rainbow-themed items from public view, fans said, in official areas and on the subway. In some cases, fans said they were banned from matches unless they removed the rainbow-themed emblems, although others reported they were able to take the rainbow symbol into stadiums without problems.
Former Welsh professional footballer Laura McAllister in a tweet that she was denied entry to the FIFA Stadium by security on Monday because she was wearing a rainbow-themed fan hat. McAllister said officers told her the rainbow symbol was prohibited, according to an interview with ITV News.
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“When we got to security, some of the security guards said we had to take off our hats. When I asked why, they said, “Because it was a banned symbol and we’re not allowed to wear it in the stadium,” she said. “They insisted we weren’t allowed into the stadium until I took my hat off. She finally managed to get in by hiding her 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 rainbow shirt. Wahl later said he was detained for half an hour in an “unnecessary ordeal” but was eventually allowed into the stadium. “Be gay,” he said wrote on Twitter with a rainbow emoji while sharing the image of the shirt.
According to guidelines shared by FIFA as recently as last week, soccer fans have been told they can freely express their identity in official tournament areas without any repercussions. “There is no risk; they are invited to express themselves; they are invited to express their love for their partners,” Gerdine Lindhout, FIFA’s head of fan experience, told ITV news on Wednesday. “They won’t get in trouble for public displays of affection.”
It was not immediately clear Tuesday if the organization’s guidelines regarding the rainbow symbols had changed or if the policy had been inconsistently enforced in the opening days of the tournament.
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 had several encounters with other subway passengers, including two men wearing official FIFA volunteer uniforms, as he traveled to the Wales-USA match with a small rainbow flag. Five people asked him to remove the symbol throughout the subway ride, Justin Martin told The Washington Post by phone, and one passenger got physical when he refused to hide the flag.
Martin, a Qatar-based journalism professor, said he does not identify as LGBTQ but wore the symbol in support of marginalized groups after other passengers repeatedly asked him to remove it.
“I stood on the train with the emblem in my hand and used the phone. I was approached by two young FIFA volunteers wearing maroon t-shirts with “volunteer” written on the back and encouraged me to lower the flag to respect the local culture. When he refused, Martin says one of the apparent volunteers became agitated and described him as “disgusting.”
Minutes later, Martin said, another passenger again angrily asked him to remove the small emblem, also becoming agitated and using his body to intimidate Martin when he refused. “He physically got into my space and I was pinned against the train door,” Martin, who said the person followed him around the subway car while filming him, told The Post.
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A football fan who witnessed the exchange confirmed Martin’s account of the altercation in a separate interview with The Post.
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 afraid to bring my badge to the USA-England match on Friday,” he said. “It doesn’t make me feel good,” he added, also stressing that the feeling of insecurity did not reflect his wider experience in Qatar.
Neither FIFA nor Qatari officials immediately responded to The Post’s request on Tuesday to clarify the guidelines for fans who want to display the rainbow symbol, both in official tournament areas and elsewhere in the Gulf state, where sex between men is illegal.
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The reports add to existing pressure on FIFA to express support for LGBTQ rights and the community during a tournament in which the rainbow has become a particularly violent symbol.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken directly criticized the body’s decision to yellow-card World Cup footballers for wearing rainbow-themed armbands in support of diversity and inclusion, saying it put the world’s athletes in an impossible position. Two yellow cards result in a player being ejected from the match.
The decision prompted seven European World Cup captains – England, Wales, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark – to ditch their OneLove armbands in a show of solidarity with LGBTQ people.
“From my point of view, it’s always worrying when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression; this is especially true when it comes to 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.
John Hudson in Doha contributed to this report.
World Championship in Qatar
Live Updates: The World Cup continues in Qatar on Tuesday with four matches featuring one of the greatest players in history and the defending champions. Follow our live coverage, analysis and highlights.
USMNT: Back at the World Cup, the young Americans were held to a 1-1 draw by Wales in their Group B opener. The U.S. men’s national team faces a bigger task on Friday against Group B favorite England, who demolished Iran 6-2 earlier on Monday.
The Qatar dispute: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusion, said they were denied entry to World Cup stadiums and members of the public agreed to remove the emblem despite assurances from FIFA, soccer’s governing body, that visitors would be allowed to express their identities freely during the tournament in Qatar. According to Human Rights Watch, Qatari authorities have arbitrarily arrested and ill-treated LGBT people, in some cases as recently as last month.
Group manager: The US men’s soccer team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. World Cup, which is an improvement over the disastrous and unsuccessful 2018. Here’s a close look at how all the teams in each group stack up.