Stadium security and members of the public have asked American and Welsh fans to hide the rainbow-themed items from public view, fans said, in official areas and on the underground . 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.
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.”
It was not immediately clear on Tuesday whether the body’s guidelines on rainbow symbols had changed or whether the policy was being applied unevenly in the early days of the tournament.
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 told the Post, who said 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.
Neither FIFA nor Qatari officials immediately responded to a request from The Post on Tuesday to clarify the guidelines in place for fans who wished 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 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.
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 that include one of the greatest players in history and the defending champion starting his title defence. Follow our live coverage, analysis and highlights.
USMNT: On their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The USA men’s national team will face to a tougher task on Friday against Group B favorites England, who demolished Iran, 6-2, earlier on Monday.
Qatari controversy: Football fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, said they were refused entry to World Cup stadiums and faced members of the public for remove the emblem, despite assurances from FIFA, football’s governing body, that visitors would be allowed to freely express their identity at the tournament in Qatar. Qatari officials arbitrarily arrested and abused LGBT people, in some cases as recently as last month, Human Rights Watch said.
Support for groups: The United States men’s national soccer team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star striker Christian Pulisic, have qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement on their disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign Here’s a look at how all the teams in each group rank.
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