The England Men’s national soccer team arrived in Doha on Tuesday in preparation for the start of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar onboard a Virgin Atlantic gay pride-themed aircraft which is called Rain Bow.
Homosexuality is illegal in the tiny but incredibly wealthy state of Qatar, and the country’s human rights record has come under intense scrutiny in the lead-up to the start of the tournament.
The England squad have been particularly critical of Qatar’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people, and Captain Harry Kane intends to wear a ‘OneLove’ rainbow armband during the tournament in spite of objections from soccer’s governing body FIFA.
The English Football Association and Virgin Atlantic did not confirm whether the aircraft had been deliberately chosen to operate the special charter flight from Birmingham to Doha on Tuesday.
In a statement, however, a spokesperson for the airline told us: “As a British flag carrier, we’re proud to fly the England Men’s Football team to the FIFA World Cup.”
“At Virgin Atlantic we believe that everyone can take on the world. Aircraft G-VPRD, also known as Rain Bow, which proudly displays our LGBTQ+ flying icon, will be flying the team to the tournament.”
The aircraft features a male figure painted close to the nose called Oscar, who is described as Virgin Atlantic’s LGBTQ+ flying icon. An early mockup of Oscar featured rainbow-coloured hotpants, although the final version has Oscar dressed in a plain blue shirt and jeans.
Last month, the airline made radical changes to its uniform and gender identity policies in an effort to allow staff the freedom to express themselves better. Virgin Atlantic upended traditional gender uniform rules for cabin crew, allowing staff regardless of their gender or gender identity, to choose whatever uniform they feel best suits them.
German flag carrier Lufthansa has emblazoned the words ‘Diversity Wins’ on the side of an Airbus A330, which will fly the German men’s soccer team to Doha later this month. The aircraft was used to fly the team to Muscat, Oman for a training camp in the region and is likely to also take them to Qatar.
The special World Cup livery is widely believed to be a nod to the German soccer team’s support of LGBTQ+ rights.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.