FIFA "in urgent talks" with Qatar after fans forced to remove rainbow clothing

This comes at the same time that UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly claimed that Qatar had taken "real steps" to ensure the safety of LGBTQ+ fans.

Left: A Welsh rainbow bucket hat, Right: Selfie of Grant Wahl
Image: Left: Twitter: @TheRainbowWall, Right: @GrantWahl

FIFA and Qatari officials are said to be engaging in urgent talks after fans were forced to remove rainbow items of clothing when entering World Cup stadiums. According to The Guardian, the meetings on Tuesday, November 22 commenced as a result of incidents reported at Wales’ opening match against the USA.

At the Group B match on November 21, supporters from both sides who wore rainbow-coloured items of clothing were ordered to remove the articles upon entry to the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium. Footage captured by ITV News shows former Wales captain Laura McAllister being told to take off her rainbow bucket hat by Qatari security, an accessory designed by The Rainbow Wall to promote inclusion and equality in football. The Welsh LGBTQ+ organisation confirmed that it had been informed of multiple similar cases where (mostly female) fans were refused admission to World Cup venues for donning the hats.

According to McAllister, authorities said the rainbow design was “a banned symbol,” and therefore she would only be granted entry to the stadium if she removed it. 

“I pointed out that FIFA had made lots of comments about supporting LGBT rights in this tournament, and said to them that coming from a nation where we’re very passionate about equality for all people, I wasn’t going to take the hat off,” she explained.

“They were insistent that unless I took the hat off we weren’t actually allowed to come into the stadium.”

Although she was aware that there was “plenty of warning that this wasn’t going to be a tournament where human rights, LGBT rights and women’s rights were going to be well respected,” she was still very keen to take a stand. In what she described as a “small victory,” the ex-footballer managed to sneak her hat through in her handbag.

Similarly, US journalist Grant Wahl claims to have been detained by security staff upon entry to the FIFA World Cup stadium for wearing a rainbow t-shirt. 

“‘You have to change your shirt,’ one guard told me. ‘It’s not allowed’,” Wahl recounted. After tweeting about the incident, the journalist alleges that a guard “forcibly ripped” his phone from his hands, and he was detained for “nearly half an hour”.

“One security guard told me that my shirt was ‘political’ and not allowed. Another continually refused to give me back my phone. Another guard yelled at me as he stood above me – I was sitting on a chair by now – that I had to remove my shirt,” he wrote.

While refusing to change his top, Wahl says that a friend of his, Andrew Das, a reporter for the New York Times, was also detained and later released. 

“And then a security commander approached me. He said they were letting me through and apologized. We shook hands,” Wahl continued, adding that a FIFA representative also apologised after the fact. “One of the security yards told me they were just trying to protect me from fans inside who could harm me for wearing the shirt.”

Another US supporter was reportedly confronted on the metro on the way to the FIFA World Cup stadium for carrying a small rainbow flag. The aggressor threatened to “kill” the man because the “flag is banned in this country,” The Guardian says.

After FIFA previously ensured LGBTQ+ fans that they would be welcome at the Qatar World Cup despite homosexuality being criminalised in the country, the governing body is said to be “deeply concerned” by these incidents. Officials have allegedly been reminded that rainbow flags should be allowed, and the Qatari Supreme Committe is expected to issue a statement today, November 23.

This comes at the same time that James Cleverly, the UK Foreign Secretary, claimed that Qatar had taken action to ensure the safety of queer spectators at the tournament. “The Qataris know how seriously we take this issue and they have taken real steps to ensure that gay football fans are safe and do feel secure and can enjoy the football,” he said. However, this does not appear to be the case, and to make matters worse, the Ecuador FA is currently facing a disciplinary case after homophobic chanting was heard coming from the country’s supporters.

In similar news, the German FA is currently taking legal advice over FIFA’s decision to issue sanctions to players wearing OneLove armbands. The regulatory body’s decision was also criticised by Belgium, who has additionally been told to remove the word ‘Love’ from its World Cup jerseys. According to Stefan Van Loock, spokesperson of the Belgian Red Devils, the rejection of the small detail is due to commercial ties, rather than its display of LGBTQ+ solidarity.

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