DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Besides competing for the World Cup title, one of the most contentious issues at the tournament in Qatar involves the colors of the rainbow.
In the first week of the tournament, seven European teams lost the battle to wear multicolored ‘One Love’ armbands to World Cup matches and some fans complained that they weren’t allowed to bring items in the colors of the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, at stadiums in the conservative Islamic emirate.
Qatar, where gay sex is illegal, has come under intense international scrutiny and criticism ahead of the tournament over rights issues, including questions about whether LGBTQ visitors would feel safe and welcome.
The Gulf nation said all are welcome, including LGBTQ fans, and that this will ensure everyone’s safety, regardless of background, but visitors should respect the nation’s culture.
Piara Powar, executive director of Fare, the anti-discrimination group that reports incidents in and around stadiums to football’s world governing body FIFA, said he believed the Qatari hosts felt the rights debate LGBTQ people had been given too much space and they needed to squeeze in.
“We told them about the rainbow flags and the symbolism they have around the world, not just in Western Europe. There are Latin Americans who recognize that, there are Asians who recognize the flag pride,” Powar said.
Just before the start of the tournament, FIFA halted plans by seven European teams, including England and Germany, to play their captains in ‘One Love’ anti-discrimination armbands, saying they would receive cards yellow if they did. The decision sparked outrage from some in the affected countries.
One of the teams, Belgium, tweeted a team photo on Friday showing captain Eden Hazard wearing the “One Love” armband. The country’s Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib wore it as she watched Belgium’s World Cup opener against Canada on Wednesday.
Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt showed up to Denmark’s game against Tunisia wearing an outfit with rainbow sleeves. In an Instagram post a day later, she appeared conflicted over the choice of clothes.
“I’ve been thinking about whether showing up in rainbow colors actually helps gay and gay people in Qatar,” Thorning-Schmidt wrote in the post. She wondered if it could “make things worse by hardening the Qatari government against them? I don’t know the answer but doesn’t this show us that nothing is binary, only good or only bad?
Some fans said they were asked to remove and discard their rainbow hats at a World Cup stadium earlier this week despite assurances from FIFA ahead of the tournament that such items would be allowed in the stages.
Justin Martin, an American citizen living in Qatar, said he was holding a small rainbow flag in the subway as he was on his way to the United States opener against Wales when two people wearing shirts identifying them as volunteers asked him to put away the flag. He did not want.
“One of them became agitated and… called me ‘disgusting,'” said Martin, an associate professor of journalism at the Doha Institute of Graduate Studies.
At the stadium, however, a woman in a Qatari police uniform who was searching her bag found the rainbow flag, looked at it and put it back up, he said. “Actually, I wasn’t banned from bringing that into the stadium.”
Martin said he’s worn a Qatar pride t-shirt before while grocery shopping or exercising without any issues.
Some Wales fans said they were prevented from bringing rainbow hats to the game against the United States, prompting the Football Federation of Wales to raise the issue with FIFA, who assured them that rainbow symbols would be allowed for Friday’s game against Iran.
Laura McAllister, a former Wales captain who acts as a World Cup ambassador, said she and other fans wore rainbow hats for Friday’s game without issue. She said she was among those who were asked to take their hats off ahead of the previous game with the United States.
The Qatari World Cup organizing committee did not respond to questions from The Associated Press about instructions to stadium security and volunteers regarding rainbow symbols.
In April, a Qatari official suggested that fans carrying rainbow flags could have them removed to protect them from possible attacks.
The issue has been debated frequently in Qatar and throughout the Middle East, where many believe it is right for visitors to respect the country’s laws, customs and religious beliefs, just as locals are expected to follow the rules of other nations when traveling. . Others counter that rights issues are universal and that sport should be inclusive.
Ahead of the tournament, some LGBTQ rights activists sought to raise concerns about how LGBTQ people in Qatar might be treated after the World Cup ended.
Some of them also argued that international attention was disproportionately focused on visitors and not enough on LGBTQ people in the country.
Associated Press writers Karl Ritter and Graham Dunbar contributed. Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.