England fan strip-searched after wearing rainbow colours

A general view outside the stadium prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between Wales and England at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on November 29, 2022 in Doha, Qatar - Stu Forster/Getty Images
A general view outside the stadium prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between Wales and England at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on November 29, 2022 in Doha, Qatar - Stu Forster/Getty Images

An England fan has revealed he was strip-searched by stadium security officials after wearing rainbow colours.

Extra checks appear to be a reaction after a pitch invader at Portugal-Uruguay ran on with a gay flag to protest against the country's laws against homosexuality.

On Tuesday, Telegraph Sport witnessed security staff stop England and Wales flags outside the Ahmed bin Ali stadium to check flags at an official “flags and banners evaluation area” manned by six security guards.

Anthony Johnson, a member of England’s official travel club, later told how he had been subjected to a strip search by security staff and then detained at the Netherlands against Qatar match.

Fifa has claimed privately that rainbow colours would be acceptable in stadiums. But Mr Johnson, from London, said he was quizzed for wearing England’s official badge in rainbow colours and a baseball cap in the same colours.

The T-shirt is part of the Football Association’s official merchandise range “black pride splatter”. Johnson told the i newspaper he was stopped at main security at the stadium. “I was asked to take my watch and belt off which I haven’t been at the other eight games I have been to," he said. "When I went through again, a big burly security guard screamed in my face ‘You don’t respect our culture’.

'I was asked to take off my shorts, my shoes and then my underwear'

“They then wand-ed me down. The wand didn’t activate but they said I had some metal on me and ushered me into a private area where they asked me to first take off my shorts, then my shoes, then take my pants down then my underwear then strip fully naked. Throughout, the guy was wand-ing my body and my clothes. He was almost apologetic by the end because it was obvious to us both he wouldn’t find anything. That all lasted about 10 minutes.”

Later on Tuesday evening, images emerged of a USA fan at the Iran match being removed by security for apparently wearing a rainbow armband. He turned to have his picture taken pointing at the armband while being frogmarched out.

Al Thumama Stadium, Doha, Qatar - November 29, 2022 A United States fan wearing a rainbow coloured arm band is removed from the stands by police officers - REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Al Thumama Stadium, Doha, Qatar - November 29, 2022 A United States fan wearing a rainbow coloured arm band is removed from the stands by police officers - REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Organisers are believed to have ordered extra flag checks. A picture of each flag is being sent by WhatsApp to a senior official for approval. One group of fans suggested their flag had been banned for having a poppy in the corner, while another claimed theirs was blocked for showing a picture of the family dog. Anyone taking footage of the flags being measured was asked to delete it.

Fifa regulations state flags can be a maximum size of 1.5m by 2m, and some fans were blocked from bringing their flags inside the venue.

Glenn Hawkins from Cholsey, Oxfordshire said:  “We’ve had the issue about my flag before but I was always eventually allowed in... but not tonight.

“This is my 18th match of this particular tournament and this is the first time I have been banned.”

A fan of England poses with a Huddersfield Town flag during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between Wales and England at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on November 29, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. - Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
A fan of England poses with a Huddersfield Town flag during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between Wales and England at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium on November 29, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. - Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

The crackdown came after a serial pitch invader, who delayed a World Cup match on Monday night while waving a rainbow flag, said he had bypassed Fifa's restrictions to "carry the message of the people."

“Fifa banned captain armbands with rainbow flag and human rights flags in the stands, they blocked everyone but not me,” said Mario Ferri via Instagram. “Like a Robinhood 2.0 I carried the message of the people. We want a free world that respects all races and all ideas.”

Ferri has seemingly now been released by Qatari authorities and announced that he will never again run onto the field of play at a sporting event.