Mideast tensions spill into Qatar World Cup

STORY: It's the first World Cup held in the Middle East – and the region's politics are never far away.

Iran's protests, Arab fans' pro-Palestinian sympathies and host-nation Qatar's own ambiguous diplomacy have all been under the spotlight.

Iran's matches have been the most politically charged, both on the pitch – when the Iranian team refrained from singing the national anthem – and off it.

A headache for Qatar, which has good ties with Tehran.

Ahead of Iran's first match, security denied entry to fans carrying Iran's pre-Revolution flag and T-shirts with the slogan "Woman, Life, Freedom" and "Mahsa Amini" – the young woman whose death in custody sparked the current protests.

"Take to storage? We have nothing else to wear. What do we wear?"

"Go to the mall and buy a t-shirt."

"You go to the mall and buy a t-shirt?"

Iranian-American fan Shayan Khosravani shows Iran's pre-revolution flag, banned inside the country.

He says he has been told to hide it.

"I wanted to come to the World Cup to support the people of Iran, because we know it is a great opportunity to speak for them, we know the national team is not speaking for them so we kind of wanted to put them in shame too, telling them like, hey, we come across the whole world to just use this opportunity to tell you guys and the rest of the world like hey what is happening in Iran is messed up, like you guys need to back people up."

Pro-Palestinian sentiments are also on display.

Qatari players have worn pro-Palestinian arm-bands...

And this Israeli journalist reporting from Qatar met a cold response from Arab fans...

"I am from Israel brother"

"You are from Israel? What brought you here?"

Qatar wants a smooth tournament that will cement its role on the global stage and in the Middle East.

It's something of a regional maverick: it hosts the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas but allowed Israeli fans to fly in for the first time.

It has given a platform to Islamist dissidents deemed a threat by Saudi Arabia and befriended Riyadh's foe Iran.

The largest U.S. military base in the region is here.

Omar Barakat is a soccer coach for the Palestinian team, which didn't make the tournament. He says security staff have allowed him into matches wearing the Palestinian flag.

"It is the Arab cause, we have seen many non-Palestinians wearing the flag, non-Arabs wearing the flag. This is my fourth flag. I have given away four and I let people borrow a lot of flags during the match just to take a photo. It is a political statement, and we are proud of it."

Such loyalties and rivalries have added to the political dimensions of a tournament already mired in controversy over the treatment of migrant workers and LGBT+ rights.