An Unexpected Detention by World Cup Security
What happened when I wore a rainbow t-shirt to the Qatar World Cup in support of LGBTQ rights in a country where same-sex relationships are illegal.
DOHA, Qatar — When I arrived at the stadium media entrance to cover the United States-Wales World Cup game today wearing a rainbow soccer ball t-shirt supporting the LGBTQ community, the security guards refused to let me in, detained me for 25 minutes and angrily demanded that I remove my t-shirt.
“You have to change your shirt,” one guard told me. “It’s not allowed.”
Same-sex relationships are illegal in Qatar. But FIFA has been clear in saying that the rainbow flag would be welcomed at the World Cup. The Qatari regime, however, has said very little on the topic, raising concerns that things would be different on the ground.
I sent out a hasty tweet:
A moment after tweeting that, one guard forcibly ripped my phone from my hands.
Nearly half an hour passed. One security guard told me that my shirt was “political” and not allowed. Another continually refused to give me back my phone. Another guard yelled at me as he stood above me—I was sitting on a chair by now—that I had to remove my shirt.
I told him no.
“You can make this easy. Take off your shirt,” one said.
I told him no, adding that my shirt wasn’t political at all.
My friend Andrew Das, a reporter for the New York Times, walked past, and I informed him what was going on. They detained him too.
Eventually, the guards made me stand up, turn around and face the CCTV camera above us.
“Are you from the UK?” one guard asked.
“New York,” I said. This was getting annoying. I arrived when I did so I’d have enough time to watch the Netherlands-Senegal game, and now I was missing it.
Finally, they let Andy go. And then a security commander approached me. He said they were letting me through and apologized. We shook hands.
One of the security guards told me they were just trying to protect me from fans inside who could harm me for wearing the shirt.
(A FIFA rep later apologized to me as well.)
But the entire episode left me wondering: What’s it like for ordinary Qataris who might wear a rainbow shirt when the world isn’t watching here? What’s that like?