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Qatar World Cup bans English soccer fans dressed as Crusaders

When the United States’ national men’s team faces England at the Qatar World Cup later on Friday, one thing will be missing: medieval knights.

Soccer’s governing body FIFA has told English soccer fans to ditch imitation chain mail, shields and swords or miss the game, according to the Times of London.

“Crusader costumes in the Arab context can be offensive against Muslims. That is why anti-discrimination colleagues asked fans to wear things inside out or change dress,” the newspaper quoted a FIFA official as saying.

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The teams’ second match in Qatar kicks off at 10 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET), with both nations hoping for a win to help them progress from the group stage into the high-stakes knockout phase.

While not favorites to win the tournament, England beat Iran 6-2 on Monday. The U.S., meanwhile, tied 1-1 with Wales, which until this year had not qualified for the tournament in decades.

Iran beat Wales 2-0 earlier on Friday, increasing the pressure on the U.S. to pick up the points they need to qualify from Group B.

The controversy around the decision to bar the costumes centers around the Crusades, when Christian kingdoms launched a series of wars on the Muslim-held Holy Land, with some aiming to retake Jerusalem to burnish various rulers’ claim to Christian glory.

England fans have worn similar outfits at previous tournaments while watching other sports. Press photos and social media footage show that England fans wearing Crusader gear were allowed into the stadium to watch their team’s match against Iran.

But despite their ancient origins — between the 11th and 13th centuries — the Crusades reverberate today.

Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019, wrote in his manifesto: “ASK YOURSELF, WHAT WOULD POPE URBAN II DO?,” referring to the pope who called on Europeans to go to war against Islamic forces in the Middle East in 1095, leading to the first Crusade.

President George W. Bush also used the term in announcing his “war on terror” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, causing alarm and anger.

“This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while, and the American people must be patient,” he told reporters at the White House on Sept. 15, 2001.

Indian journalist and author Sameer Arshad Khatlani made this point in an opinion piece published Thursday night, in response to the Crusader outfit controversy.

“I believe global sporting events have a great unifying power to bring the world together and to promote peaceful co-existence,” he told NBC News.

“The last thing we need is the promotion of ideas such as the Crusades howsoever inadvertent as they have caused among the worst atrocities in human history.” 

And talk of Crusades is even more relevant in the Muslim world, said Simon John, a senior lecturer in medieval history at Swansea University in south Wales.

“As soon as you know anything about crusading history, you know it would produce a reaction like this in the Islamic world,” he said.

“We’re talking about a period of history that is still very much remembered and talked about in the Muslim world in quite a detailed way — the same is not true in the West.”

It is unclear whether the people wearing the knight outfits know they are dressed as Crusaders or as St George, the patron saint of England.

That England fans wear the red-and-white cross of St George, also the English national flag, is a long-lasting result of the popularity of the cult surrounding George as a military saint during the Crusades. George is thought to have fought in the Roman army and died in the early 4th century, so wouldn’t have fought in the Crusades.

The British Foreign Office advises traveling Brits: “Qatari laws and customs are very different to those in the U.K. Be aware of your actions to ensure that they don’t offend.”

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