Fans’ wild World Cup fashion draws praise, scorn in Qatar

The World Cup in Qatar has become a political lightning rod, so it’s no surprise that football fans’ dress style has sparked controversy.

Forget your classic football shirts – the streets of Doha have been transformed into a chaotic runway show in terms of fashion.

Visitors from all over the world wear updated versions of traditional Gulf Arabian headdresses and thobes. Western women have tried hijabs. England fans donned crusader costumes. Politically minded people have made statements wearing rainbow accessories in Qatar, criminalizing homosexuality.

Fanmode has drawn everything from amusement to outrage from locals in the small Muslim emirate that has never seen anything like the spectacle of the World Cup before.

The most popular style among foreign fans at this World Cup is the ghutra, the traditional headscarf worn by men in the Arabian Peninsula.

When 60-year-old Gavin Coetzee is photographed at a Halloween party at home in Cape Town, South Africa, he admits his choice of clothing may seem ill-considered – even cringe. He asked a tailor to sew four African flags together to create a ghutra and stereotypical Arab thobe, the long billowing tunic worn by Qatari men in crisp white.

“I wouldn’t wear this in a Western country,” he said, referring to the heightened cultural sensitivity there. But to his surprise, his costume was raved and praised by the locals in Qatar.

“It was amazing. Everyone wants to take our picture, ask us where we’re from, they’re interested in why we put this outfit together,” he said alongside two friends wearing the same outfit.

The narrow alleyways of Souq Waqif in central Doha are teeming with vendors selling ghutras in various national colours, from the bright blue, green and yellow of Brazil to the tricolor red, white and green of Mexico. The sellers iron and fold them to create a widow’s peak effect, carefully fitting the fabric onto fans’ heads in the so-called cobra style worn by Qataris.

“I wanted to immerse myself in the culture. It’s fun to try new things,” says 41-year-old Ricardo Palacios from Venezuela, who wears a red and white checkered headdress. “The locals are in shock…that someone wearing a Spanish shirt is wearing this.”

Qataris’ only complaint so far, Palacios added, is that “I don’t know how to do it right.” shared on social media.

Qatari citizen Naji al-Naimi, a board member of Majlis al-Dama, a vibrant hub of coffee and backgammon in Doha’s open-air market, said the dozens of international fans wearing his national dress don’t bother him in the slightest. Instead, he finds the trend endearing. He compared it to citizens of the Arabian Peninsula who wore jeans or suits when traveling in Europe.

“We always try to adapt and fit in with the customs and traditions of the host country,” he said.

Among foreign women, even the hijab, the traditional Islamic headscarf that shows devotion to Allah, has emerged as trendy World Cup wear. Online videos show foreign women on the streets of Doha wearing colorful headscarves and exclaiming how safe and cute they feel.

Qatari-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera published a video last week showing a woman off-camera wrapping headscarves with female fans she encountered on the street.

“Awesome!” yelled a Brazil fan.

The locals of Qatar are not taken with other outfits, especially the crusader costumes of English fans. The outfits, which include chain mail armor, a plastic helmet and a shield adorned with an upright cross, are a nod to the Christian conquests of the Holy Land from the 11th to 13th centuries that pitted European invaders against Muslims.

Footage circulated on Twitter showed Qatari security turning away fans dressed as crusaders before the match between England and Iran in the group stage of the tournament. Others reported that they had been asked to hand in their costumes before England played the United States a few days later.

“What is so painful is to see some visitors to our country praising the glory of Crusader Europe, which disgraced the honor of all Muslims,” said Ashraf al-Khadeer, a 33-year-old Qatari citizen in Doha.

But the biggest focal point of the tournament so far has been rainbow clothing and other multicolored accessories as Qatar’s criminalization of homosexuality has sparked a storm of criticism. After FIFA threatened European teams to wear ‘One Love’ armbands with in-game discipline, some fans have taken it upon themselves to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

Days after fans complained they had been banned from stadiums due to rainbow clothing, FIFA offered assurances that Qatari security would allow the items into matches. The rule has been applied unevenly.

To avoid the hassle, a French advertising agency promoted World Cup bracelets with black and white Pantone cards that identify rainbow colors with numbers. Others have gone to extremes, such as the demonstrator who stormed the pitch with a rainbow flag during the match between Portugal and Uruguay before being tackled by a steward.

More generally, the question of what to wear to the World Cup in Qatar, a conservative Islamic emirate, long before the tournament kicked off has sparked concerns among female fans.

Fan groups spread advice for newcomers and discouraged women from wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts. The government-run tourism website asks visitors to “show respect for local culture by avoiding overly revealing clothing,” and recommends that men and women cover their shoulders and knees.

So when Ivana Knöll, an Instagram model and former Croatian beauty queen, appeared in stadiums this week in a mini dress that exposed much of her chest, some feared an international incident. But Knöll said she felt comfortable and the locals assured her she could wear whatever she wanted.

On Friday, Knöll posted a photo to Instagram of men from Qatar taking pictures as she walked through the stadium stands in tight leggings and a bra.

“Thank you very much for your support!” she wrote to celebrate her 1 million followers and drew comments in Qatar that reflected a mix of admiration, outrage and surprise.


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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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