World Cup pitch invader visited in holding cell by FIFA president before hit with ban

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World Cup pitch invader Mario Ferri has revealed he was visited by FIFA president Gianni Infantino in a Qatar holding cell at 4am on Tuesday morning to ensure he didn’t face legal action following his public protest. The activist has been banned from attending any more World Cup matches after racing onto the pitch during Portugal’s Group H encounter with Uruguay on Monday night.

The World Cup has been shrouded in controversy because of Qatar’s human rights, their stance on same-sex relationships and their treatment of migrant workers. And Ferri exhibited his frustrations with the tournament and other political issues as he bypassed security officials at the Lusail Stadium and ran across the pitch waving a rainbow flag while dressed in a Superman t-shirt.

The t-shirt had the words “Save Ukraine” written on the front of it, while “Respect for Iranian woman” was inked on the back. And he certainly attracted plenty of attention before being tackled by officials and taken away. Ferri faced an anxious wait to discover what his punishment would be. But he has now told Spanish radio outlet OndaCero that Infantino intervened to ensure he avoided legal sanctions.

“I’m free,” Ferri said. “It was a difficult night. [I was] not in jail, [I was] in a police station – with the Qatari police. To decide how to punish me for this ‘jump’ on the pitch. But then at four in the morning Infantino, the Italian president of FIFA, came and he defended me.

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“He helped me get out so as not to risk any controversy – controversy about my message about peace. And then I was freed. Qatar decided there were no consequences. It is not the first time [I have spoken to Infantino]. He told me, ‘you again, the falcon – why, why, Qatar is very dangerous for you.’ I said, ‘Ah Infantino, it is for something very important, the message I want to send.’

“I like it (invading the pitch). I’ve done it 12 times, at other World Cups in Brazil, in South Africa – always with good intentions, to send messages. I did in it Spain too at Real Madrid against Milan in 2010 for an Iranian woman, Sakineh, who was condemned for adultery.”

Ferri’s interview comes after he took to Instagram to explain why he had invaded the pitch. The activist wrote: “I’M BACK. I’ll call it ‘THE LAST DANCE’ – my last run on a playing field. I wanted to send some IMPORTANT messages to me that I’ve lived on my skin in the past months.

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“1) A message for Iran where I have friends who are suffering, where women are not respected… THE WORLD MUST CHANGE, we can do it together with STRONG gestures, that come from the heart, WITH COURAGE.

“2) FIFA banned rainbow captains’ bands and human rights flags on the stands, they blocked everyone. BUT NOT ME, like a Robinhood 2.0 I brought the message of the PEOPLE. We want a free world that laughs, f***s all races and all the ideas.

“3) SAVE THE UKRAINE. I spent a month at the war in Kyiv as a volunteer and saw how much that people were suffering. WE WANT PEACE UK️ IN UKRAINE, GLORY TO UKRAINE. Thank you for all the messages of love that I receive from the world, from Iran and Ukraine. Breaking the rules if done for a good cause is NEVER A CRIME.”

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