British supporters have dressed up as St. George—the patron saint of England—at international sports tournaments for at least two decades. But international soccer governing body FIFA says the chainmail costumes are inappropriate in the Islamic host nation of this year’s World Cup because they invoke 1,000-year-old holy wars between Christians and Muslims.
Two fans dressed as knights were refused entry to England’s game against Iran on Monday until they handed over their plastic swords and shields. “Crusader costumes in the Arab context can be offensive against Muslims,” FIFA said in a statement, the Times reports. “That is why anti-discrimination colleagues asked fans to wear things inside out or change dress.”
The England fans who were refused entry to the Iran game insisted in an interview with the Telegraph that they are “definitely not racists” and said they were actually cosplaying as knights from comedy classic Monty Python movie The Holy Grail, not crusaders, and that the whole row had been “total woke madness.”
The Crusades were a series of bloody religious wars between 1096 and 1291 fought between European Christians and Muslims to claim control of sites considered holy by both faiths. The legacy of the conflicts is often invoked by Muslim politicians denouncing modern-day Western interventions in the Islamic world, where the symbols of the crusades still hold powerful resonance. In the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, George W. Bush himself spoke of “this crusade, this war on terrorism.”
The controversy around the knight costumes is just the latest cultural flashpoint at the Qatar World Cup. Western visitors and players alike have complained about not being able to display rainbow flags in support of LGBTQ people at the tournament which is taking place in a country where homosexuality can be punishable by life imprisonment or even death.
Both fans and major FIFA sponsors alike have been upset by a last-minute decision to prohibit the sale of alcohol at stadiums. But the list of outrages concerning Qatar’s hosting of the most-watched sporting event on the planet stretches back years, with allegations of corruption, mistreatment of migrant workers, and a staggering environmental impact overshadowing the competition.