The protester who ran onto the field during the World Cup game between Portugal and Uruguay holding a rainbow flag has told Reuters that FIFA president Gianni Infantino intervened to ensure he was set free by Qatari authorities.
Wearing a blue t-shirt with the message “Save Ukraine” on the front and “Respect For Iranian Women” on the back, Mario Ferri, who goes by the nickname of Falco, was tackled by security personnel and led away.
“Gianni Infantino is intelligent – Falco is free, no problem in Qatar,” he explained in a Zoom interview from his home in Italy.
The 35-year-old said that he thought Infantino, who was born in Switzerland and the son of Italian immigrants, wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident or negative media coverage, so he intervened to have Ferri set free.
Reuters has contacted FIFA for comment.
“The police from Qatar are very like gentlemen, very friendly, asked me if I wanted water, coffee, a croissant. Very friendly,” he said.
Ferri said he was in custody for around half an hour when the FIFA president suddenly appeared.
“After I gave my personal documents to police, I was waiting and in 30 minutes, Gianni Infantino, he’s the president of FIFA, came to help me,” he explained.
Ferri said Infantino recognised him from previous pitch invasions, of which he claims to have made 11 in total, including at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
“He asked me, ‘Why? Qatar is very dangerous for you, but I have the plan to help you’. He went to talk to important people from the police of Qatar, and in 30 minutes I’m free. I’m free, out of the stadium.”
Ferri revealed that he had spent a month as an aid worker in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in March of this year, and it had a profound effect on him.
“I remember everything, I remember the children escaping their houses, the old ladies and the old men who didn’t have houses, food or water. It’s very important to me to stop the war,” he said.
Ferri has left Qatar and says he will continue with his protests.
“I’m forever trying to fight for a new world, I want no war in the world. I want peace in the world,” he said.