England fans have been told not to dress up as St George for fear of insulting Muslims in Qatar after two supporters were apparently led away by World Cup security.
Kick It Out, the leading anti-discrimination charity, warned that fancy dress representing “knights or crusaders” may be unwelcome in Qatar and the wider Islamic world.
It came as footage appeared to show officials apparently leading away two fans wearing chain mail, helmets and the cross of St George before England's opening match against Iran. It is unclear whether the supporters were detained or blocked from watching the match.
For years England fans have supported the team while dressed as St George, the patron saint often depicted as a Crusader warrior knight on horseback. The best-known Crusades took place between 1095 and 1291, when Christian armies fought to seize Jerusalem and the surrounding area from Islamic rule.
A spokesman for Kick It Out, a charity campaigning against racism and discrimination in football, warned fans against wearing knight costumes in Qatar.
“We would advise fans who are attending FIFA World Cup matches that certain attire, such as fancy-dress costumes representing knights or crusaders, may not be welcomed in Qatar and other Islamic countries. Foreign Office travel advice issued before the tournament expressed that fans should familiarise themselves with local customs, and we would encourage fans to take this approach."
A number of fans dressed as England’s patron saint have been seen travelling around Doha since the tournament began. One group was filmed singing God Save the King and storming up stairs on public transport, surrounded by locals taking pictures on their phones.
Another video showed the two fans wearing chain mail and carrying foam swords being spoken to by security staff outside the Khalifa International stadium before apparently being led away.
Iman Atta, director of Tell Mama, a UK project monitoring Islamophobic hate, said: “Our fans should be mindful that there are things that may cause offence to Qatari citizens, such as openly drinking or wearing historical Crusader Knights Templar outfits that have very negative implications in the region,” Ms Atta said.
“We also know that this is not done to purposefully irritate Qataris but out of a desire to support England.
“However, we firmly believe in the principle that any World Cup should have an environment where fans can be open, enjoy what they want to wear and feel safe and secure. This principle is one that we believe in - though in Qatar, people should just be mindful and aware of deep sensitivities.”
An England fan in Qatar speaks to TalkTV about the treatment of fans at the World Cup.
'What they don't realise in places like Qatar is the fans are the essence of the game. We are what makes football it's not the corporates.'#WorldCup | #TalkTV pic.twitter.com/AQ2uLocGXZ
— TalkTV (@TalkTV) November 20, 2022
Ashley Brown, head of supporter engagement at the Football Supporters Association, said the supporters had likely been “naive” rather then intentionally offensive or Islamophobic.
“I think it’s naivety rather than anything intentional. They’re dressing as St George, the patron saint, but perhaps they don’t really understand the implication of what they’re wearing,” Mr Brown said.
Speaking to TalkTV earlier this week, one of the crusaders dressed as knights complained about the price of accommodation at the World Cup.
“The problem is in places like Qatar, the fans are the essence of the game. We are what makes the game. It's not the corporates, they help financially in the background, it's us the fans that make the football and we are the football,” the man said.
In the weeks leading up to the World Cup, British police warned of the risk of England fans inadvertently offending Qatari locals.
Mark Roberts, Cheshire Chief Constable and English National Football Lead, said: “It’s a World Cup in a different part of the world with a very different culture, and I think one of my fears is that supporters not wishing to cause offence or cause problems may act in a way that inadvertently causes offence or draws attention.”