US journalist detained in Qatar for wearing LGBTQ+ armband

Iranian players competing in the soccer World Cup have lost fans among many people back home who accuse the national squad of siding with a violent state crackdown on protesters.

LGBTQ flag (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
LGBTQ flag
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A US journalist said he was briefly detained on Monday when he tried to enter a World Cup stadium in Qatar while wearing a rainbow shirt in support of the LGBTQ community in a country where same-sex relations are illegal.

Grant Wahl, a former Sports Illustrated journalist who now has his own website, said World Cup security denied him entry to the United States opener against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan and asked him to take his shirt off.

He said his phone was taken away when he tweeted about the incident.

"I'm OK, but that was an unnecessary ordeal," Wahl wrote on Twitter.

God reaching out to an LGBTQ person in the style of Michelangelo's ''The Creation of Adam.'' (credit: GETTY IMAGES)God reaching out to an LGBTQ person in the style of Michelangelo's ''The Creation of Adam.'' (credit: GETTY IMAGES)

He said a security commander later approached him, apologized and allowed him into the venue. He also later received an apology from a representative of FIFA, soccer's international governing body, he said.

Reuters has contacted FIFA for comment.

Seven European World Cup countries earlier on Monday ditched plans for their respective captains to wear OneLove armbands after FIFA threatened to issue yellow cards to any player wearing the multi-colored armband, which was introduced to support diversity and inclusion.

Iran's national soccer team didn't sing Iranian national anthem

Iran's national soccer team chose not to sing their country's anthem before their opening World Cup match against England on Monday, in an apparent show of support for protesters back home.

All of the starting 11 players were silent as the anthem was played at the Khalifa International Stadium.

Iranian players competing in the soccer World Cup have lost fans among many people back home who accuse the national squad of siding with a violent state crackdown on protesters, including women and children, seeking the fall of the Islamic Republic.

A popular revolt sparked by the death of young woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest for flouting the strict Islamic dress code has gripped Iran for over two months. Dozens of Iranian public figures, athletes and artists have displayed solidarity with the protesters - but not the national soccer team.

Still, the Iranian squad could not avoid being overshadowed by the anti-government unrest that has rattled Iran's Shi'ite Muslim theocracy, while other World Cup teams were squarely focused on their tactics on the pitch.

 FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group B - England v Iran - Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - November 21, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/MARKO DJURICA) FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group B - England v Iran - Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - November 21, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/MARKO DJURICA)

Iran defender Ehsan Hajsafi cautiously aired his concern at a press conference on Sunday about the political crisis and said he hoped his team could be a voice for the people.

"We have to accept the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy. We are here but it does not mean we should not be their voice. I hope conditions change as to the expectations of the people," he said, without directly mentioning the unrest.

In an Instagram post in September that he later deleted, Sardar Azmoun, a member of both the national team and German Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen, endorsed the protests.

"We have to accept the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy. We are here but it does not mean we should not be their voice. I hope conditions change as to the expectations of the people."

Ehsan Hajsafi

But as the team prepared for its first match against England on Monday, no player expressed outright support for the demonstrations, one of the biggest challenges to the cleric elite since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In the past, the Iranian soccer team was a source of fired up national pride throughout the country. Now, with mass protests, many would prefer it withdrew from the World Cup in Qatar, just across the Gulf from Iran.

Before traveling to Doha the team met with hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Photos of the players with Raisi, one of them bowing in front of him, went viral while street unrest raged on, drawing criticism on social media.

"I have mixed feelings. I love football but with all these children, women and men killed in Iran, I think the national team should not play," university student Elmira, 24, said, speaking by telephone from Tehran.

"It is not Iran's team, it is the Islamic Republic's team."

 

"Show solidarity"

"They could refuse to take part in the World Cup or even refuse to play if they were forced to go, to show that they are part of the nation, to show solidarity with mothers in Iran whose children were killed by the regime (during protests)."

The activist HRANA news agency said 410 protesters had been killed in the unrest as of Saturday, including 58 minors.

Some 54 members of the security forces had also been killed, it said, with at least 17,251 people arrested. Authorities have not provided an estimate of any wider death count.

Iranians are especially outraged because athletes around the world have been speaking out for the demonstrators in Iran while their team has remained largely silent.

"I know it is their job to play football but with all those children killed in Iran, they should have stood in solidarity with the people. Especially when the England team is going to kneel (in solidarity), how can the national team show no solidarity?" high school student Setareh, 17, said by telephone from the northwestern city of Urmia.

"FIFA should not have included the team because of protests in Iran and the regime's violation of human rights. That did not happen, so then the team should not have gone in order to show solidarity with the protesters."

Some banners of the national team have been burned by angry protesters in the capital Tehran.

But many other Iranians like Zeynab Mohammadi wished success for the team.

 Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group B - England v Iran - Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - November 21, 2022 England and Iran fans inside the stadium before the match  (credit: REUTERS/PAUL CHILDS) Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group B - England v Iran - Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - November 21, 2022 England and Iran fans inside the stadium before the match (credit: REUTERS/PAUL CHILDS)

"I will watch the game with my friends at home. I will pray for my team to win," Mohammadi, 21, said in Tehran, echoing other supporters who took to social media to cheer the players.

However, pictures of children killed in the protests were widely shared by Iranians on Twitter, with messages such as: "They loved football too, but they were killed by the Islamic Republic."

"Those children took risks for their country and were killed by the regime. The national team should take risks and show solidarity with the nation," said Hamidreza, 19, a university student in southern Iran.

"For our nation, for Iran, for all those children, men, women killed in the past weeks by the regime, be our voice in Qatar. Show solidarity if you are Iran's national soccer team."