Wild World Cup fan fashion draws praise and scorn in Qatar

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

Forget your classic football shirts – the streets of Doha have turned into a chaotic parade in terms of fashion.

Visitors from around the world wear revamped versions of traditional Gulf Arab headdresses and thobes. Western women have tried the hijab. The England supporters donned Crusader costumes. Political minds have made statements with rainbow paraphernalia in Qatar, which criminalizes homosexuality.

Fan fashion has drawn everything from amusement to outrage from residents of the tiny Muslim emirate who have never seen anything quite 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 across the Arabian Peninsula.

While pictured at a Halloween party at his home in Cape Town, South Africa, 60-year-old Gavin Coetzee admits his wardrobe choice can look ill-conceived, even cringe. He had a tailor sew together four African flags into a ghutra and a stereotypical Arabic thobe, the long, flowing tunic that Qatari men wear in stark white.

“I wouldn’t wear that in a Western country,” he said, referring to heightened cultural sensitivity there. But to his surprise, his costume drew elation and praise from the people of Qatar.

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

The narrow lanes of Doha’s central Souk Waqif are teeming with vendors selling ghutras in various national colors, from the bright blue, green and yellow of Brazil to the red, white and green tricolor of Mexico. Vendors iron and fold them to create a widow’s peak effect, carefully fitting the fabric to the 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,” said Ricardo Palacios, 41, from Venezuela, wearing a red and white checkered headdress. “The locals are in shock…that someone wearing a Spanish shirt is wearing this.”

The Qataris’ only gripe so far, Palacios added, is that ‘I don’t know how to do it right’. He said locals stopped him on the street, restyling his headgear to make it look as it should. Similar videos have been widely shared on social media.

Qatari citizen Naji al-Naimi, a board member of Majlis al-Dama, a bustling cafe and backgammon center in Doha’s open-air market, said the dozens of international fans wearing his national attire didn’t bother him in the least. Instead, he finds the trend endearing. He compared it to citizens of the Arabian Peninsula wearing jeans or suits when traveling in Europe.

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

Among non-Muslim visitors, even the hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf showing piety to Allah, has become fashionable World Cup attire. Online videos show foreign women on the streets of Doha wearing colorful headscarves, exclaiming how safe and cute they feel.

Qatar-funded television channel Al Jazeera released a video last week showing a woman wrapping the hijab off-camera around female fans she met on the street.

“Surprising!” shouted a fan from Brazil.

The local people of Qatar did not appreciate the other outfits, especially the caped crusader suits of the England supporters. The outfits, including chain mail armour, 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 the Muslims.

Footage circulating on Twitter showed Qatari security turning away fans dressed as Crusaders ahead of the England-Iran game in the group stage of the tournament. Others reported being asked to return their suits before England played in the United States a few days later.

“What is so painful is to see some visitors to our country praising the glories of Crusader Europe, who dishonored the honor of all Muslims,” ​​said Ashraf al-Khadeer, a Qatari citizen from 33 years in Doha.

But so far the tournament’s biggest flashpoint has been the rainbow clothes and other multicolored paraphernalia as Qatar’s criminalization of homosexuality has sparked a firestorm of criticism. After FIFA threatened European teams wearing in-game discipline “One Love” armbands, some fans decided to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

Days after supporters complained of being locked out of stadiums due to rainbow outfits, FIFA assured Qatari security would allow items into matches. The rule was unevenly applied.

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

More broadly, the question of what to wear at the World Cup in Qatar, a conservative Muslim emirate, sparked concern among female fans long before the tournament kicked off.

Fan groups have been spreading advice to newcomers, discouraging 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 both men and women cover their shoulders and knees.

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

On Friday, Knöll posted a photo on Instagram of Qatari men snapping photos as she strutted through the stadium stands in tight leggings and a bra.

“Thank you very much for your support!” she wrote to celebrate her one million followers, prompting comments in Qatar reflecting a mix of admiration, outrage and bewilderment.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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