Soccer fans face rainbow flags during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

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Football fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, have said they were denied entry to World Cup stadiums and were confronted by the public to remove the emblem, despite assurances from FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup. football, that visitors would be allowed to say their identity during the tournament in Qatar.

Stadium security and members of the public asked American and Welsh fans to hide rainbow-themed items from the public, fans said, in official zones and on the subway. In some cases, fans said they were denied entry to matches unless they removed rainbow-themed decals, though others reported they were able to take the rainbow symbol into the stadiums with no problem.

Former Welsh professional footballer, Laura McAllister tweeted that she was refused entry to a FIFA stadium by security officials on Monday because she was wearing a rainbow-themed supporter hat. According to an interview with ITV News, McAllister said officials told her the rainbow symbol was banned.

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“When we got through security, some of the guards told us to take off our hats. 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 actually allowed into the stadium.” She was eventually able to get in by hiding the hat.

In a separate incident prior to the same game, American football writer Grant Wahl said he was stopped by a security guard because he was wearing a shirt with a rainbow on it. Wahl later said he was detained for half an hour in an “unnecessary ordeal”, but was eventually allowed into the stadium. “Go gay,” he said wrote on Twitter with a rainbow emoji, sharing an image of the shirt.

Under guidelines shared by FIFA last week, football fans have been told 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 head of fan experience, 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 agency’s guidelines on rainbow symbols had changed or whether the policy was applied unevenly during the opening days of the tournament.

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

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On Monday, football fan Justin Martin said he was confronted several times by fellow subway passengers while also traveling to the Wales vs. US game with 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 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 wore the symbol as a show of support for marginalized groups when he was repeatedly asked by other passengers to remove it.

“I was on the train with the decal in my hand and using my phone. I was approached by two young FIFA volunteers in maroon T-shirts that read ‘volunteer’ on the back and they encouraged me to get rid of the flag to respect the local culture.” When he refused, Martin said a of the apparent volunteers became agitated and described him as “disgusting”.

A few minutes later, Martin said, another passenger angrily asked him again to remove the small decal, also becoming agitated and using his body to intimidate Martin when he refused. “He physically came into my space and I was pushed against the door of the train,” Martin told The Post, who said the person then followed him through the subway 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 traveling to ask him to remove the symbol, Martin added.

“I’m sad. I’m afraid to take my crest to the US-England match on Friday,” he said. “It doesn’t make me feel good,” he added, also stressing that the experience of a feeling unsafe was not representative of his wider experience with Qatar.

Neither FIFA nor Qatari officials immediately responded to a request from The Post on Tuesday to clarify what guidelines were in place for fans to display the rainbow symbol, both in official tournament zones 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 community support during the tournament, in which the rainbow has become a particularly charged symbol.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken directly criticized the body’s decision to penalize World Cup footballers with yellow cards if they wear rainbow-themed bracelets in support of diversity and inclusion – saying it put world athletes in an impossible position. Two yellow cards will lead to the removal of a player from the game.

The decision prompted seven European World Cup captains, those of England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark, to jettison “OneLove” bracelets in a show of solidarity with LGBTQ people.

“It is always concerning from my perspective when we see restrictions on free speech; it is especially so when the phrase is for diversity and for inclusion,” Blinken said at a joint press conference in the capital Doha along with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.

“No one on a football field 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 on Tuesday in Qatar with four games, including one of the greatest players in history and the reigning champions who begin their title defense. Follow our live coverage, analysis and highlights.

USMT: On their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The US men’s national team faces a bigger task on Friday against Group B favorites England, who beat Iran 6-2 earlier 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, the governing body of the football, that visitors would be allowed to freely identify themselves during the tournament in Qatar. According to Human Rights Watch, Qatari officials have arbitrarily arrested and assaulted LGBT people, in some cases as recently as last month.

Guide for groups: The US national soccer team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star striker Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement on the disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s an up-close look at how all the teams in each group are doing.

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