World Cup organisers faced growing questions Tuesday about whether the rainbow logo can be displayed at the World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino said in his opening press conference “I feel gay” and that “everyone is welcome” at the first World Cup to be held in the Arab world.
But the early evidence is that when confronted by the rainbow symbol, or even something resembling it, world football’s governing body Qatari organisers are deeply uncomfortable.
Seven European teams including England and Germany announced on Monday they were abandoning plans made months ago for their captains to wear a rainbow-themed armband.
The armbands have been widely viewed as a symbolic protest against laws in Qatar.
In a joint statement, the teams said they had backed down because “FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions” – in other words, it would direct referees to show their players a yellow card or even send them off the field of play.
BBC TV presenter Alex Scott wore the armband anyway as she introduced coverage of the match from the pitch.
Germany’s football association (DFB) said it was examining if FIFA’s threat to punish players who wear the “OneLove” armband was legal.
“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.
‘Take the hat off’
The sensitivity about the issue is not limited to the players at the Qatar World Cup. At stadiums, security staff have ordered spectators to remove items of clothing featuring the rainbow logo.
Laura McAllister, a former captain of Wales’ women’s team, was confronted by security guards at her country’s match against the USA on Monday and ordered to remove her rainbow-coloured bucket hat.
The rainbow version of Welsh fans’ apparel shows support for the LGBTQ community.
“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.”
She said she had achieved a “small moral victory” by managing to sneak the hat through security in her handbag.
The Welsh Football Association (WFA) said several members of Rainbow Wall, Wales LGBTQ supporters’ group, had also been told they could not wear the hats.
The WFA said it was “extremely disappointed” and would take up the issue with FIFA.
At the same match, American journalist Grant Wahl tweeted that he had been told he must remove his t-shirt because it featured a rainbow logo. He said he was detained for 25 minutes but was eventually allowed to enter the stadium.
Asked about the incident involving Welsh fans by AFP, FIFA did not reply.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said while it could not comment on the reports of incidents regarding spectators’ clothing, it regretted that the Qatar World Cup was not a forum for open expression.
“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.