The controversial 2022 FIFA World Cup had its first pitch invader. During the second half of Monday’s match between Portugal and Uruguay at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar, a man with an LGBTQ flag in hand ran on the field to protest the World Cup host, while calling attention to world issues.
During Monday’s pitch invasion, Mario “Il Falco” Ferri — an Italian soccer player and activist with a storied history of running on the field during important matches — ran on the field while wearing his signature Superman shirt, which featured the words “Save Ukraine” on the front and “Respect Iranian Women” on the back.
During the game, officials were seen chasing Ferri down, as he dropped a rainbow flag and was escorted off the field. In some videos, the game’s referee was seen grabbing the rainbow flag and taking it off the pitch before restarting the game.
In Qatar, same-sex relations are punishable by up to seven years in prison, according to the U.S. State Department. To protest the country’s homophobic law, the captains of seven teams from Europe planned to protest Qatar’s ban on LGBTQ couples by wearing rainbow armbands but ultimately decided not to after being threatened by FIFA with yellow cards.
“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband,” the soccer associations for the seven countries said in a joint statement. “However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.”
Other World Cup attendees have also been reprimanded for attempting to wear clothing in favor of LGBTQ people, while the U.S. Men’s National Team featured rainbow flags in their locker rooms and press conference areas during a recent game.
During a post-game press conference after Portugal defeated Uruguay 2-0, midfielder Ruben Neves spoke in support of the pitch invader’s message, according to The Evening Standard.
“We are all with them and the message on his shirt as well. We hope nothing happens to the boy because we understand his message and I think all the world understood it as well,” Neves said. “We know what has happened around this World Cup. It is a normal thing that can happen.”
Back in 2010, Ferri was arrested in a match between Inter Milan and Mazebe with the words “Free Sakineh” on his shirt, referencing an Iranian woman who was set to be killed by stoning in Iran. He also ran on the field during the World Cups in 2010 and 2014, where he had a shirt with the words “Save Favelas Children.”
Earlier this year, Ferri shared photos of himself on Instagram as he traveled from Pescara to Poland to help Ukrainian women and children who had escaped their native country following Russia’s invasion.
Since FIFA chose Qatar as the 2022 host country in 2010, concerns have continued to grow over the abuse of migrant workers, who make up 90 percent of the workforce. Migrant workers have been key to the labor needed to construct lodgings for travelers coming to the World Cup.
A reported 6,500 migrant workers have died since Qatar was awarded host country status, according to a recent investigation by Rolling Stone.