Some people attending 2022 World Cup matches have said they have experienced difficulties in Qatar when trying to enter stadiums wearing clothing in support of LGBTQ rights.
At the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on Monday, ahead of the United States Men’s National Team’s (USMNT) match with Wales, US football journalist Grant Wahl and former Wales captain Laura McAllister both said they had been told to remove rainbow-colored items of clothing by security staff.
Wahl said he was detained and briefly refused entry to the match because of the “rainbow soccer ball t-shirt” he was wearing, posting on Twitter that security staff had told him: “You have to change your shirt. It’s not allowed.”
The journalist wrote on his website that when he tweeted about the incident on his phone, “one guard forcibly ripped my phone from my hands.”
“One security guard told me that my shirt was ‘political’ and not allowed,” Wahl wrote. “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.”
Wahl said he was released 25 minutes after being detained and received apologies from a FIFA representative and a senior member of the security team at the stadium.
Wahl told CNN on Tueday that he had been given assurances beforehand that he would be allowed to wear rainbow-decorated clothing and that he “probably will” wear the shirt again as he has “no fear here about any of this.”
When asked about standing up for the LGBTQ community, Wahl said: “It’s really important to me and it’s not required by any stretch of the imagination.
“I’ve got family members who are gay. I’ve got friends who are gay. I’ve got journalist friends who are gay who are here in Qatar. But you don’t need that to be supportive, to be an ally.
“So, I was thinking about all of those people yesterday. I was thinking about Colorado Springs. I was thinking all sorts of stuff. And if I have to be detained for 30 minutes, it’s kind of annoying. But it’s not an issue for me. And so I was glad to at least help out a little bit.”
McAllister – who captained the Welsh women’s national football team in the 1990s – said she was stopped by security officials and had her rainbow-colored hat confiscated before she was allowed to enter the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.
“So, despite fine words from @FIFAWorldCup before event, @Cymru (Wales) rainbow Bucket hats confiscated at stadium, mine included,” McAllister tweeted of the incident.
“I had a conversation about this with stewards – we have video evidence. This #WorldCup2022 just gets better but we will continue to stand up for our values,” added McAllister.
Video posted online by British media outlet ITV appears to show McAllister being stopped at a security checkpoint and a person in a police uniform gesturing towards her hat.
“They were insistent that unless I took the hat off we weren’t actually allowed to come into the stadium,” McAllister said in the interview with ITV.
McAllister, who played 24 times for Wales, told ITV that security officials said the rainbow hat was a “banned symbol.”
“I think we’ve had 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, but coming from a nation like Wales, we were very keen that we still took a stand coming here,” McAllister told ITV.
The hat in question is sold by The Rainbow Wall, a self-described LGBTQ+ Supporters Group for the Wales national teams.
Earlier on Monday, shortly after it was announced that the captains of several European nations would not wear “OneLove” armbands at the World Cup in Qatar due to the danger of receiving yellow cards, former England international Alex Scott wore a rainbow armband as she formed part of the BBC’s coverage of England’s match against Iran.
England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Wales were set to participate in the “OneLove” campaign to promote inclusion and oppose discrimination.
But those countries’ associations said in a statement on Monday that the armband – which features a striped heart in different colors to represent all heritages, backgrounds, genders and sexual identities – would not be worn in Qatar.
On Tuesday, it was announced that supermarket chain Rewe had ended its cooperation with the German football association, DFB, because of what it said was FIFA’s “scandalous” ban on the “OneLove”armband.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has also criticized the sport’s world governing body for its stance on the armbands.
“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,” said Blinken.
“And in my judgment, at least, no one on the football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team,” Blinken told reporters while speaking in Doha on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Belgian FA announced it had to remove the word “love” from its kit due to a commercial clash which predated the decision to not wear the “OneLove” armband.
CNN has reached out to FIFA and the World Cup organizers for comment, and to clarify the World Cup’s official dress code.
According to the FIFA handbook, “expats and tourists are free to wear the clothing of their choice, as long as it is modest and respectful to the culture.”
In the buildup to the World Cup, Qatar – where sex between men is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison in the country – has come under criticism for its stance on LGBTQ rights.
A report from Human Rights Watch, published last month, documented cases as recently as September of Qatari security forces arbitrarily arresting LGBT people and subjecting them to “ill-treatment in detention.”
However, the country has insisted that “everyone is welcome” at the tournament, adding in a statement to CNN this month that “our track record has shown that we have warmly welcomed all people regardless of background.”