LUSAIL, Qatar — In what initially appeared to be the first in-game demonstration in support of LGBTQ rights at the 2022 World Cup, a protester disrupted Monday night’s game between Portugal and Uruguay by running onto the field with a rainbow flag.
The protester also wore a shirt that read “RESPECT FOR IRANIAN WOMEN” and “SAVE UKRAINE.” He ran from the near sideline across most of the pitch before being tackled by security.
The flag was a peace flag as it had "pace," the Italian word for peace, printed on it in white. While the rainbow pattern on the peace flag is not explicitly in support of LGBTQ rights, it was impossible not to initially see the flag as a statement of support. In Qatar homosexuality is criminalized and all LGBTQ people are marginalized. Throughout the first week of the World Cup, fans and journalists were refused entry to venues for wearing rainbow-colored T-shirts, masks and hats.
World Cup organizers have apologized for those incidents and assured fans that pride apparel is allowed at venues. But it has not been visible on broadcasts. FIFA also threatened European teams with “sporting sanctions” if their captains wore anti-discrimination armbands featuring rainbow colors that were similar, though not identical, to the pride color scheme.
Monday’s stunt was the first time during the Qatar World Cup that the colors infiltrated most American TV screens. Some broadcasts briefly caught the fan, who dropped the flag on the field before being detained.
The referee then picked up the flag and carried it over to the side of the field, where it briefly rested by the pitch-side advertising boards. A stadium staffer then ran to pick it up and remove it from the field of play.
Many international broadcasts cut away from the fan, as they do from most pitch invaders in all soccer games. But photographers at field level captured the protest in full.
The front of the shirt was a reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The back was a reference to the women’s rights movement in Iran, which has provoked a brutal crackdown from the country’s repressive government, and has been a subject of significant demonstrations in and around stadiums at this World Cup.
On Tuesday, Qatar's Supreme Committee said the fan had been banned from all future World Cup matches but would otherwise not face any significant consequences.
"Following the pitch invasion that took place during last night's Portugal vs. Uruguay match, we can confirm that the individual involved was released shortly after being removed from the pitch," a statement said. "His embassy has been informed. As a consequence of his actions, and as is standard practice, his Hayya Card has been cancelled and he has been banned from attending future matches at this tournament."