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Protester runs onto World Cup pitch with rainbow flag, call to respect Iranian women

Security officials tackle Italian activist Mario Ferri, wearing blue Superman t-shirt that also says ‘Save Ukraine,’ on field during Portugal-Uruguay match

A pitch invader runs across the field with a rainbow flag during the World Cup group H soccer match between Portugal and Uruguay, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP/Abbie Parr)
A pitch invader runs across the field with a rainbow flag during the World Cup group H soccer match between Portugal and Uruguay, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Nov. 28, 2022. (AP/Abbie Parr)

A protester ran onto the field Monday carrying a rainbow flag and wearing a blue Superman T-shirt that said “SAVE UKRAINE” on the front and “RESPECT FOR IRANIAN WOMAN” on the back during a World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay.

The man was on the field for about 30 seconds during the second half of the game before being tackled and escorted off by security.

The protester was ushered away through a tunnel. It wasn’t immediately clear if the person faced any charges or had been detained by police.

Thierry De Backer, FIFA’s media officer at the game, told The Associated Press he had “no idea” what happened to the protester. Local Qatari organizers would not comment.

In the first week of the tournament in Qatar, seven European teams lost the battle to wear multi-colored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches. Fans also complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.

Qatar’s laws against gay sex and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone was welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

“We know what has happened around this World Cup… It’s a normal thing to happen,” said Portugal player Ruben Neves.

“Of course, we are all with them as well. With Iran as well, with the Iranian women. So I hope it doesn’t happen, anything to the boy, because we understand his message, and I think all the world understands it as well.”

The protestor was identified as Italian Mario Ferri by Italian press agency AGI. He has staged similar protests before, including at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where he raised the issue of children living in poverty.

Britain’s sports minister Stuart Andrew said he will wear the OneLove armband when he attends England’s clash with Wales on Tuesday. German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser wore the “OneLove” armband last week while sitting next to FIFA president Gianni Infantino for Germany’s shock 2-1 defeat by Japan.

Fans complained earlier in the tournament that they had been told to remove items of clothing with the rainbow on them.

White House reaction

Monday’s on-pitch protest was addressed by White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, speaking on the eve of a politically charged match between the USA and Iran in Qatar.

“We are concerned over the potential treatment of LGBTQ+ spectators and athletes,” she said.

“We urge the state of Qatar and all Qataris to fully realize the emir’s message and that is to truly recognize, to welcome everyone to the Cup, the World Cup.”

FIFA said it had no comment to make at this stage.

Iran’s team has separately been in the spotlight because of anti-government protests at home.

The Iranian team did not sing the national anthem before their first game against England in an apparent gesture of solidarity with the protesters.

Iran has been shaken by more than two months of nationwide demonstrations since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody on September 16.

Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died three days after her arrest in Tehran over an alleged breach of the dress code for women, which includes the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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