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

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

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

Visitors from all over the world wear updated versions of traditional Arabic headdresses and thobes. Western women have tried hijabs. English fans donned Crusader costumes. The politically minded made statements with rainbow accessories in Qatar, which has criminalized homosexuality.

The fans’ fashion has sparked everything from amusement to outrage from locals in the small Muslim emirate, which has never seen anything like the World Cup spectacle before.

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

If photographed at a Halloween party at home in Cape Town, South Africa, 60-year-old Gavin Coetzee admits his wardrobe choices might look ill-conceived – even cringe-worthy. He asked a tailor to sew four African flags into a gutra and a stereotypical Arab toube, the long flowing tunic that Qatari men wear in bright white.

“I wouldn’t wear that in a Western country,” he said, referring to heightened cultural sensitivities there. But to his surprise, his costume drew excitement and praise from locals in Qatar.

“It was amazing. Everyone wants to take pictures of us, ask where we’re from, wonder why we’re wearing this outfit,” he said, alongside two friends wearing the same outfit.

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The narrow streets of Doha’s Souq Waqif central market teem with vendors selling gutras in a variety of national colors, from Brazil’s bright blue, green and yellow to Mexico’s tricolor red, white and green. Vendors iron and fold them to create a widow’s effect, carefully fitting the cloth to 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 hairdo. “The locals are shocked … that someone who wears a Spanish shirt is wearing this.”

The Qataris’ only complaint so far, Palacios added, is that “I don’t know how to do it right.” He said locals stop him on the street, remaking his hat so it looks right. Such videos are widely circulated on social networks.

Qatari national Naji al-Naimi, a board member of Majlis al-Dama, a bustling coffee and backgammon hub in Doha’s open-air market, said the dozens of international fans wearing his national dress 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 accommodate and refer to the customs and traditions of the host country,” he said.

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

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Qatar-funded Al Jazeera television released a video last week showing a woman wrapping hijabs around female fans she meets on the street.

“Unbelievable!” shouted a Brazilian fan.

The local population of Qatar did not take kindly to other outfits, especially the caped crusader costumes of the English fans. The outfits, which include chain mail armor, a plastic helmet and a shield emblazoned 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 shared on Twitter shows Qatari security pushing back fans dressed as Crusaders ahead of the England-Iran group stage match of the tournament. Others reported being asked to hand in their suits 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 a crusading Europe that dishonored the honor of all Muslims,” ​​said Ashraf al-Hadir, a 33-year-old Qatari citizen in Doha.

But the biggest highlight of the tournament so far has been the rainbow clothing and other multi-coloured accessories, as Qatar’s criminalization of homosexuality has sparked a firestorm of criticism. After FIFA threatened European teams wearing “One Love” armbands with in-game discipline, some fans have stepped up to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

Days after fans complained of being barred from stadiums for wearing the rainbow, FIFA gave assurances that Qatari security would allow the items into matches. The rule is applied unevenly.

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To avoid the trouble, a French ad agency is promoting World Cup armbands printed with black-and-white Pantone cards that identify the colors of the rainbow with numbers. Others have gone to extremes, such as the protester who stormed the pitch with a rainbow flag during the match between Portugal and Uruguay before being attacked by a steward.

More generally, the question of what to wear to the World Cup in Qatar, a conservative Muslim emirate, caused anxiety among female fans long before the tournament began.

Fan groups circulated tips for newcomers discouraging women from wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts. The government’s tourism website urges 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 Knjol, an Instagram model and former Croatian beauty queen, appeared in stadiums this week wearing a mini dress that revealed much of her chest, some feared an international incident. But Koehl said she felt comfortable and that locals assured her she could wear whatever she wanted.

On Friday, Knoll posted a photo on Instagram of Qatari men taking pictures as she walked around the stadium’s stands in tight leggings and a bra.

“Thank you so much for your support!” she wrote to celebrate her 1 million followers, attracting comments in Qatar reflecting a mix of admiration, outrage and bewilderment.


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