DOHA, QATAR- A growing number of questions were raised Tuesday about whether the rainbow logo can be displayed at the World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
In his opening press conference, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said: “I feel gay” and that “everyone is welcome” at the first World Cup held in the Arab world.
However, there is early evidence that Qatari organisers are deeply uncomfortable with the rainbow symbol, or even something that resembles it.
On Monday, seven European teams, including England and Germany, ditched plans to wear rainbow armbands for their captains.
People have widely viewed the armbands as a symbolic protest against Qatari laws.
According to a joint statement by the teams, “FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions” — that is, it will direct referees to show their players yellow cards or even take them off the field.
In spite of this, BBC TV presenter Alex Scott wore the armband as she introduced the match.
FIFA has threatened to punish players who wear the “OneLove” armband. The German football association (DFB) said it was looking into the legality of that threat.
“FIFA banned us from showing a sign for diversity and human rights. They combined this with massive threats of sports sanctions without specifying what these would be,” DFB spokesman Steffen Simon told AFP’s sports subsidiary SID.
“The DFB is checking if this action by FIFA is legal,” he added.
There is a sensitivity about the issue that goes beyond the Qatar World Cup players. The stadium security staff has instructed spectators to remove items of clothing with rainbow logos from the stadiums.
During Wales’ match against the USA on Monday, Laura McAllister, former captain of Wales’ women’s team, was ordered to remove her rainbow-coloured bucket hat by security guards.
Support for the LGBTQ community can be seen in the rainbow version of Welsh fans’ apparel.
“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 my hat off,” McAllister told Britain’s ITV.
“They were insistent that unless I took the hat off we weren’t actually allowed to come into the stadium.”
After sneaking through security with the hat in her handbag, she said it was a “small moral victory.”
Members of Rainbow Wall, Wales’ LGBTQ supporters’ group, were also told they could not wear the hats of the Wales Football Association (WFA).
WFA expressed its “extreme disappointment” and promised to speak with FIFA about the matter.
During the same match, American journalist Grant Wahl tweeted that he was told to remove his t-shirt because it featured a rainbow logo. After being detained for 25 minutes, he was eventually allowed into the stadium.
FIFA did not respond to AFP’s questions regarding the incident involving Welsh fans.
While the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights could not comment on reports of incidents in relation to the clothing of spectators, it regretted that there was no forum for open discourse at the Qatar World Cup.
“Sport can and should be used to combat all forms of discrimination, and more generally social exclusion, violence, inequality, racism and xenophobia,” a spokeswoman said.