Soccer fans with rainbow flags confront each other at the Qatar 2022 World Cup

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Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusion, have said they were denied 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 could express their identities during the tournament in Qatar.

Stadium security and members of the public asked American and Welsh fans to hide the rainbow-themed items from public view, fans said, in official areas and on the subway. In some cases, fans said they were denied entry to matches unless they removed the rainbow-themed emblems, though others reported that they were able to bring the rainbow symbol into stadiums without issue.

Former Welsh professional footballer Laura McAllister tweeted He was denied entry to a FIFA stadium by security officials on Monday because he 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 guards said we had to take off our hats. When I asked them why, they said ‘because it was a prohibited symbol and we were not allowed to use it in the stadium,’” he said. “They insisted that unless I took off my hat, we were not allowed into the stadium.” He eventually he was able to enter hiding the hat.

In a separate incident before the same game, American soccer writer Grant Wahl said he was stopped by a security guard for wearing a rainbow jersey. Wahl later said that he was detained for half an hour in an “unnecessary test” but was eventually allowed into the stadium. “Come on gays”, he wrote on Twitter with a rainbow emoji, sharing an image of the shirt.

As per guidance shared by FIFA last week, soccer fans have been advised that they are free to express their identities within 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 director 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 agency’s guidance on rainbow symbols had changed or if the policy was being applied unevenly in the early days of the tournament.

At the time, FIFA clarified that its guidance did not apply to areas outside of the official tournament zones, where the rules are less clear.

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On Monday, soccer fan Justin Martin said he was confronted multiple times by fellow tube passengers while traveling to the Wales-USA game. USA carrying a small rainbow flag, including two men wearing official FIFA volunteer uniforms. Five people asked him to remove the symbol from view during the subway ride in all, 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 does not identify as LGBTQ but was wearing 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 the emblem in my hand, using my phone. I was approached by two young FIFA volunteers wearing maroon T-shirts that say ‘volunteer’ on the back and encouraged me to keep the flag to respect the local culture.” When he refused, Martin says one of the apparent volunteers became agitated, describing him as “disgusting.”

Minutes later, Martin said, another angry passenger asked him again to remove the small emblem, also becoming agitated and using his body to intimidate Martin when he refused. “He physically entered my space and they pushed me against the door of the train,” Martin told The Post, who said the person followed him around the subway car while he was filming it.

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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 his ride asking him to remove the symbol, Martin added.

“I’m sad. I’m afraid to take my shield to the USA-England game on Friday,” he said. “It doesn’t make me feel good,” he added, also stressing that the experience of feeling unsafe was not representative of his broader experiences. in Qatar.

Neither FIFA nor Qatari officials immediately responded on Tuesday to a request from The Post to clarify what guidance existed for fans wishing to display the rainbow symbol both in official tournament areas and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf state. , where sex between men is illegal.

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The reports add to existing pressure on FIFA for its handling of LGBTQ rights and expressions of support for the community during the tournament, during which the rainbow has become a particularly tense 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 support of diversity and inclusion, saying that it puts the world’s athletes in an impossible position. Two yellow cards lead to the expulsion of a man of the match.

The decision prompted seven European World Cup captains — those from England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark — to ditch “OneLove” bracelets that show solidarity with LGBTQ people.

“It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see restrictions on free speech; it is especially true when the expression is pro-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 a soccer field should be forced to choose between supporting these values ​​or playing for their team,” Blinken said.

John Hudson in Doha contributed to this report.

World Cup in Qatar

Live updates: The World Cup continues in Qatar on Tuesday with four games featuring one of the greatest players in history and the reigning champion beginning his title defense. Follow our live coverage, analysis and highlights.

USMNT: In their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Pool B opener. The US men’s national team will face a tougher task on Friday against the Group B favorites England, which demolished Iran, 6-2, early on Monday.

Qatar controversy: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusion, have said they were denied 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 could freely enter. express their identities during the tournament in Qatar. Qatari officials have arbitrarily arrested and mistreated LGBT people, in some cases as recently as last month, according to Human Rights Watch.

Group guide: The US men’s soccer team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement over their disastrous and failed 2018 campaign. Here’s one Closer look at how all the teams in each group compare.

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