American journalist detained over rainbow shirt ahead of US-Wales match

AL-RAYAN, Qatar — Authorities have asked two American journalists to remove rainbow-patterned clothing from Qatar’s World Cup stadiums in recent days.

On Saturday, Los Angeles Times reporter Kevin Baxter was told by a police officer at the US men’s national team’s country training site. That rainbow colored mask is not allowed.

Two days later, at Ahmed Ben Ali Stadium, where the USMNT plays Wales on Monday night, longtime soccer journalist Grant Wahl said he was told by security to change his shirt in a rainbow pattern around a soccer ball. FIFA told Yahoo Sports that the incident was a “mistake” and said it had been “settled”.

Wahl said in a follow-up tweet that he was held for “about half an hour.” On his website, he wrote that after tweeting about the incident, a security guard “forcibly took my phone from my hand.” Eventually he was allowed in with his shirt on, but only after what he described as an “ordeal”.

LGBTQ rights have become one of the many flashpoints of this World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is criminalised. FIFA and the Supreme Committee, the co-organizers of the World Cup, have promised to welcome LGBTQ fans and participants. FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Saturday that he “has been talking about this topic with the country’s highest leadership – many times, not just once. And they have confirmed that I can assure everyone is welcome.”

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But ahead of Monday’s kick-off, seven European teams canceled plans to wear rainbow anti-discrimination captain’s armbands after FIFA threatened them with “sporting sanctions”. Subsequently, ESPN reported that Belgium had been told by FIFA to remove the word “love” from their shirt collars two days before they faced Canada in Group F.

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 21: A general view outside the stadium during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between the United States of America and Wales at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium on November 21, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.  (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

A general view outside the stadium during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between the United States of America and Wales at Ahmed Bin Ali Stadium on November 21, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

But what has always worried Western fans and officials is the inability of the organizers to control the actions of each local police officer and security guard.

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Baxter – who has worn the rainbow-colored mask, among others, for nearly two years – was told to take it off as he entered Thani Bin Jassim Stadium before a training session in the US. He was then shown a standard blue mask, at which point he realized he would likely be asked to remove it because of LGBTQ Pride colours. “And that’s when I got upset,” he told Yahoo Sports. He refused to wear the regular mask, and went without it.

After Baxter tweeted about the incident, an NFL official came to him “very upset at the police officer’s actions,” he said. He later received a phone call from a representative of the Supreme Committee, who asked him about his safety and said that they would look into the incident.

Wahl also said he had received an apology from a FIFA official. Here is the rest of his description of the accident from Wahl’s website:

One of the security guards told me that my shirt was “political” and not allowed. Another continually refused to return my phone. Another guard standing over me – I was sitting on a chair now – yelled at me that I had to take my shirt off.

“You can make this easy. Take your shirt off,” someone said.

I told him no, adding that my shirt wasn’t political at all.

My friend Andrew Dass, a reporter for the New York Times, passed by, and I told him what was going on. They arrested him too.

Eventually, the guards made me stand up, turn around, and face the CCTV camera above us.

“Are you from the UK?” one of the guards asked.

I said “New York”. This was annoying. I arrived when I did and had enough time to watch the Holland-Senegal game, and now I miss it.

Finally, they let Andy go. Then a security commander approached me. He said they let me through and apologized. We shook hands.

One of the security guards told me that they were just trying to protect me from the fans inside who would hurt me for wearing the shirt.

(The FIFA representative also later apologized to me.)

An England fan wearing a rainbow jersey sits in the stands before kick-off of the FIFA World Cup Group B match between England and Iran at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on Monday, November 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Abby Barr)

An England fan wearing a rainbow jersey sits in the stands before kick-off of the FIFA World Cup Group B match between England and Iran at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on Monday, November 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Abby Barr)



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