'Like Robin Hood 2.0': World Cup pitch invader on his message for Ukraine, LGBT and women's rights

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By Euronews  with AP
A pitch invader runs across the field with a rainbow flag during the World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, 28 October.
A pitch invader runs across the field with a rainbow flag during the World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay, at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, 28 October.   -   Copyright  Abbie Parr/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved

An Italian man who ran onto the pitch during a World Cup game brandishing a rainbow flag on Monday says he's "like a Robin Hood 2.0" spreading a message to the world.

"We want a free world that respects all races and all ideas," Mario Ferri wrote on his Instagram account Tuesday.

"FIFA banned rainbow captain's armbands and human rights flags in the stands, they blocked everyone, but not me," he said.

Ferri stormed the pitch during the game between Portugal and Uruguay at the Lusail Stadium, and besides the LGBT rainbow flag, he wore a Superman T-shirt that read "Save Ukraine" on the front and "Respect for Iranian Woman" on the back. 

"A message for Iran where I have friends who suffer, where women are not respected... the world must change," he said.

"I spent a month in the war in Kyiv as a volunteer and saw how much that people are suffering. We want peace in Ukraine," Ferri added.

Security officials chased him onto the pitch, passed bemused players, and escorted him to the sidelines.

Portugal midfielder Bruno Fernandes said after the game that he did not properly notice the Ferri, who uses the name "The Falcon" for his activism, claiming he thought he wanted to take a photo with Cristiano Ronaldo, his star teammate.

“To be honest I didn’t really see what was the message that was trying to be conveyed,” he told reporters.

“But we’ve already spoken about that many times. ... We respect all human rights but those are political issues where we, unfortunately, don’t really have much strength, where we can’t really change anything.”

Who is football protester "The Falcon"?

When it comes to making a statement at World Cup tournaments, Ferri has prior form.

During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, he ran onto the pitch during the Belgium - USA match wearing a T-shirt bearing the words "Save the children of the favelas" and "Ciro Vive", in homage to a Napoli supporter killed shortly before the tournament, according to Italian news agency AGI.

On his Instagram account, he posted images from inside the Lusail stadium in Doha, the last one taken at half-time.

"Breaking the rules if you do it for a good cause is never a crime," wrote Ferri, who was quickly released "without further consequence", according to the Italian foreign ministry.

Monday night's protest was the first time a match has been marked by such an intrusion since the start of the competition in Qatar, which has come under fire from Western critics over the treatment of people from the LGBT community and the rights of migrant workers. In the small emirate, homosexuality is a criminal offence.

Ferri's run across the pitch lasted about 30 seconds and was only briefly shown on television.

"We know what is happening around this World Cup. Of course, we are with them, with Iran too, the Iranian women. I hope nothing happens to this boy because we understand his message, and I think the world understands it too," commented Portugal's Ruben Neves after the match.

Although Fifa has assured that flags or clothing in the colours of the rainbow will be accepted in the stadiums, in reality, they have been confiscated on several occasions by the security forces.

Support for Iranian protests draws praise

Ferri's support for Iranian women drew praise from some quarters on social media. 

Iranians attending the World Cup have demonstrated outside of stadiums and booed the national anthem, amid mass anti-government protests at home.