Stadium security and members of the public asked American and Welsh fans to hide rainbow items from public view, fans said, in the official zones 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 take the rainbow symbol into stadiums without problem.
Former Welsh professional footballer Laura McAllister he tweeted that she was refused entry to a FIFA stadium by security on Monday because she was wearing a rainbow-themed fan hat. 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 said we had to take our hats off. When I asked them why, they said “because it was a banned symbol and we weren’t allowed to wear it in the stadium,” she said. “They were adamant that unless I took my hat off, we wouldn’t be allowed into the stadium.” In the end, she managed to get in by hiding her hat.
In a separate incident before the same game, US soccer writer Grant Wall said he was stopped by a security guard for wearing a rainbow jersey. Wahl later said he was held for half an hour in an “unnecessary ordeal” but was eventually allowed to enter the stadium. “Go gay,” he wrote on Twitter with a rainbow emoji, sharing a picture of the shirt.
According to guidelines shared by FIFA as recently as last week, football fans have been advised that they can freely express their identity in 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 experience, told ITV News on Wednesday. “They won’t get in trouble for public displays of affection.”
It was not clear on Tuesday whether the body’s guidelines on rainbow symbols had changed or if the policy had been unevenly enforced in the early 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 was repeatedly confronted by fellow subway passengers while traveling to the Wales-USA match carrying a small rainbow flag, including two men dressed in official FIFA volunteer uniforms. Five people asked him to remove the symbol from view during a subway ride, Justin Martin told The Washington Post in a phone interview, and one passenger became physically upset when he refused to hide the flag.
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 and I was using my phone. “I was approached by two young FIFA volunteers wearing maroon t-shirts with ‘volunteer’ written on the back and encouraged me to remove the flag 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 to remove the small emblem again, also upset and using his body to intimidate Martin when he refused. “He physically entered my space and pushed me against the door of the train,” Martin told The Post, who said the man then followed him around the subway car as she filmed him.
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A football fan who witnessed the exchange confirmed Martin’s story about the altercation to The Post in a separate interview.
Two other members of the public also approached Martin while he was on his commute 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. “It doesn’t make me feel good,” he added, stressing that the experience of feeling unsafe was not representative of his wider experiences from Qatar.
Neither FIFA nor Qatari officials immediately responded to The Post’s request on Tuesday to clarify what guidelines were in place for fans who wanted to display the rainbow symbol both in official tournament zones and elsewhere in the Gulf state, where that sex between men is illegal.
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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.
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-themed armbands in support of diversity and inclusion – saying it puts the world’s athletes in an impossible position. Two yellow cards result in a player being sent off.
The decision prompted seven European World Cup captains, those of England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark, to ditch the “OneLove” armbands in solidarity with LGBTQ people.
“From my perspective it is always worrying when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression; it is especially so when the expression is about 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.
The World Cup 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 reigning champions begin their title defence. Follow our live streams, analysis and highlights.
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 faces a taller task on Friday against Group B favorite England, who demolished Iran 6-2 earlier on Monday.
Controversy in Qatar: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, said they were refused entry to World Cup stadiums and confronted by members of the public to remove the emblem, despite assurances from FIFA, soccer’s governing body, that visitors will be allowed to freely express their identity during the tournament in Qatar. Qatari authorities have arbitrarily arrested and mistreated LGBT people, in some cases as recently as last month, according to Human Rights Watch.
Group Guide: The United States men’s national soccer team, led by coach Greg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, has qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement from its disastrous 2018 campaign. Here’s a closer look at how all the teams in each group line up.