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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Joe Sommerlad

Rainbow flags and ‘revealing’ outfits: Five things banned for fans at the Qatar World Cup


As soon as FIFA chose to award World Cup 2022 to Qatar way back in 2010, selecting its bid ahead of competing offers from the likes of the US, Japan and Australia, the tournament has been mired in controversy.

The issues surrounding the tournament are well-documented, from accusations of bribery to the host’s poor human rights record and discriminatory laws to the deaths of migrant labourers in the construction of its stadiums.

FIFA will have been relieved to see the football itself get underway and, by and large, the tournament itself has proven a success so far, with fears of crowd trouble or clashes with police entirely failing to materialise and a party atmosphere prevailing.

That said, the issues raised have not gone away and plenty of complications have arisen, not least because of the vast cultural differences evident between the fans descending on the Persian Gulf from Europe, North and South America, Asia and Africa and their conservative hosts.

Here’s a guide to everything that has been banned in Qatar to the occasional frustration of visiting supporters.


The plan had been for alcohol to be on sale in the stadiums, as is customary elsewhere around the world, only for FIFA to change its mind with just two days to spare before the matches got underway.

While that will have come as a disappointment to supporters, it was an even more acutely embarrassing development for official sponsor Budweiser, which tweeted “Well, this is awkward” before hastily deleting the post.

While the sale of alcohol is strictly controlled in Qatar, it is still being served in fan zones around Doha, ensuring that supporters can celebrate their victories and commiserate in defeat, just not inside the arenas themselves.

OneLove armbands

Even after the opening match had been played, frantic negotiations were still ongoing between European football associations and FIFA over whether or not team captains like England’s Harry Kane would be allowed to wear OneLove armbands in defence of LGBT+ rights and in protest at the homophobic laws active in Qatar.

Alex Scott (BBC)

It was ultimately ruled at the last minute that they could not, with FIFA citing a rule prohibiting “political, religious or personal messages or slogans” being worn by players and instead offering more neutral “No discrimination” band as a compromise.

BBC analyst Alex Scott, a former international herself, wore the OneLove version anyway during live punditry duty ahead of England’s first match against Iran and Germany drew plaudits when its players posed for a team photo before their game against Japan in which all 11 placed their hands over their mouths to indicate that they felt they had been unfairly silenced from speaking out on the issue.

Rainbow bucket hats and flags

Welsh fans have adopted these sartorially-dubious Britpop revival hats since 2010, with many arriving in Qatar sporting a rainbow version in support of the Pride movement.

However, fans soon began to report that they were being confiscated en route to the stadiums, with Wales’s former women’s captain Laura McAllister saying that this had happened to her and that she had felt intimidated by the steward who had accosted her ahead of her side’s opening game against the US.

Wales fans in their trademark bucket hats (Nick Potts/PA)

Since then, the Football Association of Wales announced that FIFA has performed another significant U-turn and ruled that rainbow hats and flags will be permitted for the remainder of the tournament.

But that did not stop a pitch invader, subsequently named as Italian national Mario Ferri, racing onto the field during Portugal’s game against Uruguay to brandish the flag in a further human rights protest.

Crusader costumes and plastic swords

There have been some magnificent costumes worn by fans in Qatar in support of their teams, from bearded Swiss milkmaids and Brazilian sheiks to the Mexican woman whose feathered headdress was so large it almost stopped her fitting into a train carriage on the Doha underground.

However, it is hard to disagree with officials’ decision to turn away England fans dressed as Crusader knights bearing plastic swords, a wildly insensitive choice given that these Christian warriors were engaged in bloody holy wars against Muslims during the Middle Ages, even if joke St George cross tunics and chainmail are commonly worn in the spirit of harmless fun at international sporting events.

“We would advise fans who are attending FIFA World Cup matches that certain attire, such as fancy dress costumes representing knights or Crusaders, may not be welcomed in Qatar and other Islamic countries,” warned a spokesman for anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out.

“Foreign Office travel advice issued before the tournament expressed that fans should familiarise themselves with local customs, and we would encourage fans to take this approach.”

That did not satisfy one unrepentant Crusader, who told TalkTV from a fan park that the sheer expense involved in attending the World Cup should mean supporters can do whatever they like because “fans are the essence of the game”.

‘Revealing’ outfits

Fans were also warned in advance of the tournament that they should respect Qatar’s conservative customs and keep themselves covered up in public, despite the oppressive desert heat many are not accustomed to.

As the Qatar Tourism Authority phrased it: “Visitors (men as well as women) are expected to show respect for local culture by avoiding excessively revealing clothing in public. It is generally recommended for men and women to ensure their shoulders and knees are covered.”

While that dress code has largely been respected in deference to the host’s wishes, others have preferred to defy the ban to make the case for personal liberty in provocative style.

Croatia fan and model Ivana Knoll, who has been pushing the modesty dress code in Qatar and causing a stir online (Adam Davy/PA)

Step forward former Miss Croatia Ivana Knoll, who has relished the chance to pose for Instagram at the World Cup in what The Daily Mail carefully described as “a series of daring outfits”.

To quote Jose Mourinho: “I prefer not to speak. If I speak, I’m in big trouble…”

The Qataris’ “draconian” insistence on wearing clothes also hits the English where it hurts: you won’t find any shirtless Geordies with swinging Newcastle Brown bellies on the terraces of the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium and perhaps that’s for the best, all things considered.

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