The Portugal vs Uruguay match at the Qatar World Cup had an unexpected interruption after a protestor carrying a Pride flag ran onto the pitch on Monday in defiance of the country's anti-LGBT laws. In the second half of the group stage encounter, the man stormed onto the field wearing a blue superman t-shirt with the words "Save Ukraine" emblazoned on the front.
However, he is no ordinary man but has been identified as Mario Ferri, a footballer-turned-globetrotting campaigner, who has also been helping Ukrainian refugees. Ferri has since been gaining respect for his courageous act of gaining past the security and protesting Qatar's treatment of LGBTQ+ people.
Show of Courage
In the second half of the group stage encounter on Monday night, Ferri stormed onto the field wearing a blue superman t-shirt with the words "Save Ukraine" emblazoned on the front. The back of the t-shirt read, "Respect for Iranian woman [sic]," in reference to the current anti-regime demonstrations in Iran.
As Ferri ran holding the Pride flag above his head, he was chased by security personnel across the field until being eventually taken by the hand and escorted away.
He was soon led away by the security while the flag remained on the field. The match stopped for a few minutes as the match referee picked up the Pride flag and the game resumed after that.
Many of the spectators could be seen cheering the protestor as he sprinted across the field before being carried off.
Being gay is against the law in Qatar and one can even end up in jail for seven years. This has caused a great deal of controversy surrounding the tournament.
The use of One Love armbands during games has also been disputed by a number of athletes and commentators, notably the teams from Wales and Germany. FIFA officials threatened players who wore the armband in favor of the extremely contentious hosts Qatar with "unlimited" disciplinary action and yellow cards.
Additionally, wearing rainbow bucket hats and carrying rainbow flags inside stadiums have been banned.
Monday's pitch invasion has left many stunned as it is being seen as an act of courage in a country like Qatar. However, the Italian is in fact a pro at it. According to a CBS Sports report, Ferri shot to fame a few years ago by visiting stadiums throughout Europe and South America to engage in comparable acts of disobedience.
He frequently stormed onto the field in a blue Superman jersey, which he again wore on Monday in Lusail, before engaging with players, rousing the crowd, and demonstrating for numerous reasons.
Ferri also stormed onto the field at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil while wearing a "favelas" t-shirt. He was even put under house arrest in Italy for a series of pitch invasions.
According to Ferri, when Putin invaded Ukraine, he felt compelled to take action. He drove a large number of migrants across the border into Poland on his own initiative. "I do it on my own. I pay for everything and I want nothing back. I almost had a fight the other day because I saw a man asking money for doing what I do. It's unacceptable, people are desperate here and there are few that want to make a business out of it," he told CBS Sports.
"I go to Lviv, look for people that need help and I drive for five, 10, 15 hours. Lviv is like a harbor for Ukrainians who want to leave the country. Outside the country [in Poland especially] is full of people that are helping, but inside Ukraine many are worried that something can happen to them."
His Instagram page boasting 110,000 followers is littered with snaps of him in action. He was last under contract with Indian second-division side United Sports Club, based in Kolkata.
Besides assisting Ukrainian women to flee conflict zones, Ferri claimed he has another personal objective to achieve in the near future. After spending time in Europe, Africa, and Asia already, he said he wanted to realize his dream of becoming the first football player to play on all five continents.