FIFA, Qatar Spark World Cup Controversy Over Arm Band Restrictions

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FIFA, Qatar Spark World Cup Controversy Over Arm Band Restrictions
Some World Cup players planned to wear arm bands in support of LGBTQ rights, but Qatar and FIFA quashed them.

A few days into the World Cup and controversies already threaten to overshadow play on the field.

First came FIFA's threats against seven European team captains wishing to wear "One Love" arm bands to support LGBTQ rights and to protest host country Qatar's laws that make homosexuality illegal.

Soccer's governing body announced at the last minute it would punish players with a yellow card if they wore the armband, effectively shutting down their campaign. Two yellow cards result in a player's expulsion from a match.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is visiting Qatar, blasted FIFA's threats and attempt at compromise

"It's always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression," Blinken said. "It's especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion. No one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team."

Off the field, some soccer fans wearing rainbow signs say they are being harassed by stadium security.

"I showed up at the stadium last night, and instantly I was pushed aside by the security guards at the media entrance," said Grant Wahl, senior writer for Sports Illustrated.

Wahl tweeted that he was detained for nearly half an hour and asked to change his t-shirt.

"I was told explicitly, 'You need to take off your shirt. That's a political statement, and you cannot enter because of that,'" Wahl said. "They continued to try to get me to take off my shirt. They stood above me as I sat and angrily yelled at me. Only after about 30 minutes did a commander come down and let me through, wearing my shirt, and he apologized, as did FIFA."

Two other fans also took to Twitter to report similar incidents.

Former Wales professional soccer player Laura McAllister says stadium security confiscated her rainbow hat, and journalism professor Justin Martin says he was shoved and insulted on the Doha subway for carrying a small pride flag.

While homosexuality is criminalized in Qatar, national officials sent mixed messages about the flags in the months leading up to the tournament.

Last month, the head of Qatar's World Cup, Nasser Al Khater, added to the confusion with a vague answer to Sky News after a reporter asked to clear the confusion on whether fans can come bearing a rainbow flag.

"Look, everybody is welcome here, all we ask is for people to be respectful of the culture," Al Khater said.

FIFA told ITV News last week that LGBTQ soccer fans would not face repercussions for expressing themselves within tournament zones.

"There is no risk, they are welcome, they are welcome to express themselves, they are welcome to express their love for their partners," said Gerdine Lindhout, the head of fan experience at FIFA. 

FIFA didn't immediately respond to Newsy's request for a statement. 

It's unclear whether the organization has changed its rule on fans' rainbow symbols or whether the guidance is being enforced unevenly by local security officers.