During one of the widely televised matches of the Qatar World Cup, a protester invaded the pitch carrying a rainbow flag and wearing a t-shirt with messages of support to Ukraine and to Iranian women.
The pitch invader stormed the field in the middle of the match between Portugal and Uruguay on Monday, November 28. The man, who was wearing a t-shirt that bore the Superman emblem in addition to the phrases “Save Ukraine” and “Respect Iranian women”, ran through the pitch with a rainbow flag in his hands to protest Qatar being allowed to host the World Cup despite reported LGBTQ+ and workers’ rights abuses.
He also used what little time he had on the field to protest the war in Ukraine and to share a message of solidarity with women in Iran, as protests continue to erupt throughout Iranian streets after 22-year-old, Mahsa Ahmini, was killed by police for disobeying strict laws that require women to wear the hijab.
As reported by the Evening Standard, the protestor is Mario Ferri Falco, an Italian activist and footballer with a history of political pitch invasions. He was chased by security through the field and later escorted away through a tunnel. At the moment, it is not clear what has happened to him, nor which consequences he will have to face.
Thank you to Mario Ferri, for flying the pride flag on a World Cup pitch, for standing with Iranian women, for standing with the people of Ukraine. LGBTQ+ Qataris exist and they matter. LGBTQ+ people exist everywhere in the world, and we all matter. ?✊️ pic.twitter.com/ZoCv0ZGTSQ
— Nancy Kelley (@Nancy_M_K) November 29, 2022
During an interview after the game, Portugal midfielder Ruben Neves shared his support for the protestor’s actions and the LGBTQ+ community. “Of course, we are all with them and the message on his shirt as well,” he stated. “We hope nothing happens to the boy because we understand his message and I think all the world understood it as well.”
Rainbow items have been prohibited in stadiums at the Qatar World Cup, despite FIFA claiming that they held “urgent talks” with officials from the Gulf state to ensure the safety of LGBTQ+ fans. FIFA’s reassurances came after fans were stopped by security and forced to remove rainbow accessories before entering the stadiums.
During an interview on Monday, the head of the Qatar World Cup organising committee Hassan al-Thawadi said that the rainbow flag sends a “very divisive message”. The discussion revolved around the OneLove armband, an accessory that some European football captains had decided to wear to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community in Qatar. However, after FIFA imposed sanctions on captains sporting the accessory on the field, the teams decided to drop the armband.
A guy carrying a Pride flag and wearing a shirt that says "Save Ukraine" on the front and "Respect for Iranian women" on the back just crashed the pitch at the World Cup in Qatar. pic.twitter.com/ShD5Umko2L
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) November 28, 2022
Al-Thawadi said that he had an “issue” with the OneLove armband because he believed it represented a protest against Islamic values and against an Islamic country hosting a major sporting event such as the World Cup. He continued by saying that “mutual respect is fundamental” and that “there are certain things that we will not agree upon”, referring to the fact that same-sex relationships are illegal in Qatar and punishable by imprisonment or even death under Shariah law.
The Gulf state has been at the centre of a global controversy since it came under increased attention for hosting the 2022 World Cup. Many have spoken out against FIFA’s decision to allow Qatar to host such an important international sporting event despite the country’s poor track record on human rights, especially of LGBTQ+ people, women and migrant workers.
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