Portugal’s 2-0 World Cup win over Uruguay was temporarily halted on Monday after a man waving a rainbow flag invaded the pitch, in an apparent protest against Qatar’s stance on homosexuality.
The match at Lusail Stadium was paused a few minutes into the second half when the Italian pitch invader, Mario Ferri, evaded security to run towards the centre circle to loud cheers from the crowd.
Ferri was wearing a blue T-shirt with the Superman logo emblazoned on the front, above the words “Save Ukraine”. “Respect for Iranian Women” was printed on the back.
Chased by stewards as he ran diagonally across the pitch and past several unmoved Uruguay and Portugal players, Ferri was eventually apprehended and bundled to the floor by two security workers. He was led away by three men but had dropped his flag inside the Portugal half, which was picked up and removed by Iranian referee Alireza Faghani.
Portugal captain Bruno Fernandes said he could not read the message on the flag, and was not sure if the pitch invader was a protestor or merely a fan trying to get a picture with Cristiano Ronaldo, given similar instances in the past.
"I did not see the message," said Manchester United midfielder Bruno, who scored both of Portugal’s goals. “We respect all human rights but those are political issues where we unfortunately don't have much strength. We can't really change anything. I didn’t realise the reason he went on the pitch – to send a message, take a photo of Cristiano – I didn't know."
A guy carrying a Pride flag and wearing a shirt that says "Save Ukraine" on the front and "Respect for Iranian women" on the back just crashed the pitch at the World Cup in Qatar. pic.twitter.com/ShD5Umko2L
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) November 28, 2022
The television broadcast cut away from the protester, although not quickly enough to miss his Pride flag being paraded across the playing area at a tournament which threatened yellow cards for players wearing rainbow armbands. “We won't glorify that by showing it to you further,” said ITV commentator Jon Champion.
Fifa has come under fire after suggesting ‘sporting sanctions’ could be given to seven European nations, including England and Wales, if their captains wore the ‘OneLove’ armband. England captain Harry Kane did not wear the armband for their opening match against Iran last week due to the risk of an immediate booking and, the Football Association believed, potential action which included the match being abandoned.
Ferri, 35, is a serial disruptor of sporting events. Nicknamed Il Falco (the falcon), he has caused stoppages at games including AC Milan vs Real Madrid in the 2010 Champions League, the Club World Cup final in Abu Dhabi between Internazionale and Mazembe in the same year and World Cup games in South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014.
The incident on Monday was the first instance of a pitch invasion at Qatar 2022. Fifa’s stadium code of conduct, included with all tickets bought for the World Cup, clearly states that “All persons must not enter the field of play."
The code also prohibits “any materials included but not limited to banners, flags, fliers apparel and other paraphernalia that are of a political, offensive and/or discriminatory nature,” but also goes on to forbid anything which discriminates against a person’s sexuality.
On Monday night Fifa and the Supreme Committee in charge of the World Cup in Qatar had no immediate comment.
The 2018 Fifa World Cup final between France and Croatia was interrupted by a pitch-invasion protest when four members of the Russian punk and arts collective group Pussy Riot ran onto the field, with the group calling for political prisoners to be released by the Russian government.
Pitch invasions are normally treated as a criminal offence, which are handled by local authorities rather than Fifa. In 2018, the four protestors were each sentenced to 15 days in prison following a court hearing.