One of the (many) big stories around the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is the country’s actual behavior on LGBTQ+ discussion. While organizers tossed out plenty of “Everyone is welcome” lines ahead of the event despite Qatar punishing homosexual behavior with jail sentences and potentially even capital punishment, the combination of the local organizing committee and world soccer governing body FIFA has not been at all welcoming so far. They even forced European teams to back down from their plans to wear “One Love” armbands with threats of yellow cards.
Now, pushback on worn symbols of inclusion at this World Cup has extended to journalists. On Monday, American journalist Grant Wahl tweeted about how a security guard prevented him from accessing the stadium where the U.S. was set to take on Wales. Wahl said he was detained for nearly 30 minutes before he was able to go to the media center:
I’m OK, but that was an unnecessary ordeal. Am in the media center, still wearing my shirt. Was detained for nearly half an hour. Go gays ? https://t.co/S3INBoCz89
— Subscribe to GrantWahl.com (@GrantWahl) November 21, 2022
Update: Wahl wrote about this in a free post on his Substack, revealing that New York Times writer Andrew Das also got detained after Wahl told him what was going on, and discussing how security ” forcibly ripped my phone from my hands” after his first tweet. Here’s his conclusion:
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?
A clampdown on journalists’ clothing is quite a move, and one that goes even beyond the various decisions FIFA has handed down against participating teams’ inclusive displays. Censorship rules for participating teams are problematic enough, but censoring those just trying to cover the event goes further still. Of course, this is just one of the many forms of censorship Qatar has practiced so far, from threatening a Danish reporter while he was on air to arresting British and German reporters in the past to implementing strict restrictions on where journalists can conduct interviews. But it’s still a notable addition to those annals of censorship.
It will be interesting to see if this crackdown on journalists expressing support for the LGBTQ+ community will continue. The BBC’s Alex Scott wore one of those FIFA-banned “One Love” armbands on-air Monday, and others may follow suit. But Wahl’s experience here suggests there may well be more official pushback to come.