01 April 2022

Rainbow flags ‘may be taken off World Cup fans in Qatar for their own safety’

01 April 2022

Rainbow flags could be taken off fans at the World Cup in Qatar to protect them from being attacked, a senior leader overseeing security for the tournament has said.

Major General Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Ansari insisted that LGBTQ couples would be welcomed and accepted in Qatar for the Fifa showpiece event from November 21 to December 18, despite same-sex relations remaining criminalised in the conservative Gulf nation.

But Maj Gen Al Ansari is against the overt promotion of LGBTQ freedoms as symbolised by the rainbow flag that Fifa and World Cup organisers had previously said would be welcome across Qatar’s eight stadiums.

Watch the game. That’s good. But don’t really come in and insult the whole society because of this

“If he (a fan) raised the rainbow flag and I took it from him, it’s not because I really want to, really, take it, to really insult him, but to protect him,” he told the Associated Press.

“Because if it’s not me, somebody else around him might attack (him). I cannot guarantee the behaviour of the whole people. And I will tell him, ‘Please, no need to really raise that flag at this point’.”

Maj Gen Al Ansari is director of the Department of International Co-operation and chairman of the National Counterterrorism Committee at the Ministry of Interior.

“You want to demonstrate your view about the (LGBTQ) situation, demonstrate it in a society where it will be accepted,” he said. “We realise that this man got the ticket, comes here to watch the game, not to demonstrate, a political (act) or something which is in his mind.

“Watch the game. That’s good. But don’t really come in and insult the whole society because of this.”

Fifa president Gianni Infantino (Hassan Ammar/AP) (AP)

Fifa president Gianni Infantino said this week in Doha that “everyone will see that everyone is welcome here in Qatar, even if we speak about LGBTQ”.

Maj Gen Al Ansari said he is not telling LBGTQ fans to stay away from Qatar or warning them they will face prosecution.

“Reserve the room together, sleep together – this is something that’s not in our concern,” he said. “We are here to manage the tournament. Let’s not go beyond the individual personal things which might be happening between these people… this is actually the concept.

“Here we cannot change the laws. You cannot change the religion for 28 days of World Cup.”

When it was pointed out that visiting fans and teams could take offence to the comments, Maj Gen Al Ansari said he did not view himself as being discriminatory.

“I am risking… a minority view against a majority,” he said. “We have to be close to the problem before it erupts and gets out of control.

“If somebody attacks you, then I have to get involved and it will be too late.”

Fifa chief social responsibility and education officer Joyce Cook told the AP in 2020 that “rainbow flags, T-shirts will all be welcome in the stadium — that’s a given. They understand very well that is our stance”.

World Cup chief executive Nasser Al-Khater also said “we will respect” Fifa guidelines on allowing rainbow flags.

The idea that the flag... will be removed from people to protect them will not be considered acceptable, and will be seen as a pretext

Chris Paouros, a member of the English FA’s inclusion advisory board and trustee with the anti-discrimination group Kick It Out, said: “This inconsistency and the continued lack of detail in terms of how that will be provided beyond the rhetoric of ‘everyone is welcome’ is concerning, to say the least.”

The Fare network, which monitors games for discrimination, called for the freedoms of fans to be respected at the World Cup.

Executive director Piara Powar said: “The idea that the flag, which is now a recognised universal symbol of diversity and equality, will be removed from people to protect them will not be considered acceptable, and will be seen as a pretext.

“I have been to Qatar on numerous occasions and do not expect the local Qatari population or fans visiting for the World Cup to be attacked for wearing the rainbow flag. The bigger danger comes from state actions.”

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