Stadium security and members of the public asked American and Welsh fans to hide rainbow-themed items from public view, fans said, in official zones and on the subway. In some cases, fans said they were refused entry to matches unless they removed rainbow-themed emblems, although others reported they were able to take the rainbow symbol into the stadiums without issue.
Former Wales professional soccer player Laura McAllister tweeted that she was refused entry to a FIFA stadium by security officials Monday because she was wearing a rainbow-themed supporters’ hat. McAllister said she was told by officials that the rainbow symbol was forbidden, according to an interview with ITV News.
“When we got through security, some of the security guards said we had to take the hat off. When I asked them why, they said ‘because it was a banned symbol and that we weren’t allowed to wear it in the stadium,’ ” she said. “They were insistent that unless I took the hat off we weren’t actually allowed to come into the stadium.” She was able eventually to enter by concealing the hat.
In a separate incident before the same match, American soccer writer Grant Wahl said he was stopped by a security guard for wearing a shirt with a rainbow on it. Wahl later said he was detained for half an hour in an “unnecessary ordeal” but ultimately allowed into the stadium. “Go gays,” he wrote on Twitter with a rainbow emoji, sharing an image of the shirt.
According to guidance shared by FIFA as recently as last week, soccer fans have been advised that they are free to express their identities within official tournament zones without repercussion. “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 Wednesday. “They won’t get into trouble for public displays of affection.”
It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether the body’s guidance on rainbow symbols had changed or if the policy was being unevenly enforced in the tournament’s opening days.
At the time, FIFA clarified that its guidance did not apply to areas outside official tournament zones, where the rules are less clear.
On Monday, soccer fan Justin Martin said he was confronted multiple times by fellow subway passengers while also traveling to the Wales-U.S. match 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 journey in total, Justin Martin told The Washington Post in a telephone interview, and one passenger becoming 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 carrying the symbol as a show 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 in maroon-colored T-shirts that say ‘volunteer’ on the back and they encouraged me to put the flag away to respect 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 angrily asked him again to remove the small emblem, also becoming agitated and using his body to intimidate Martin when he refused. “He physically got in my space and I was pushed against the door of the train,” Martin told The Post, who said the person then followed him around the subway carriage while filming him.
A soccer 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 journey to ask him to remove the symbol, Martin added.
“I’m sad. I’m afraid to bring my emblem to the USA-England match on Friday,” he said. “It doesn’t make me feel good,” he added, also emphasizing that the experience of feeling unsafe was unrepresentative of his broader experiences of Qatar.
Neither FIFA nor Qatari officials immediately responded Tuesday to a request from The Post to clarify what guidance was in place for fans who wished to display the rainbow symbol both in official tournament zones and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf state, where sex between men is illegal.
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 soccer players with yellow cards if they wear rainbow-themed armbands in support of diversity and inclusion — saying it put world athletes in an impossible position. Two yellow cards result in a player’s expulsion from the match.
The decision prompted seven European World Cup captains, those of England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark, to jettison “OneLove” armbands showing solidarity with LGBTQ people.
“It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression; it’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion,” Blinken said in a joint news conference in the capital, Doha, alongside Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.
“No one on a football pitch should be forced 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 history’s greatest players and the reigning champion beginning its 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 Group B opener. The U.S. men’s national team will face a taller task Friday against Group B favorite England, which demolished Iran, 6-2, earlier Monday.
Qatar controversy: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, have said they were refused entry into World Cup stadiums and confronted by members of the public to remove the emblem, despite assurances from FIFA, soccer’s governing body, that visitors would be allowed to freely 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.
Groups guide: The U.S. men’s national soccer team, led by Coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement from its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a close look at how all of the teams in each group stack up.