Several team captains of World Cup teams were planning to wear “OneLove” pro-LGBTQ armbands during their opening games at the tournament, but a threat by FIFA that it would penalize the players with yellow cards stymied the effort.
The national federations of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands had said they were prepared to pay a fine for their captains to wear the rainbow armband. England’s Harry Kane was one of the captains who had said he wanted to wear the armband to show support for the LGBTQ community in Qatar, where homosexuality is criminalized.
But just hours before the first captains were set to wear the armbands, FIFA’s threat caused the clubs to change course. FIFA says the armbands violate its rules.
“FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play,” a joint statement from the countries’ soccer associations states. “As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games.
“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.
“We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented — we wrote to FIFA in September informing them of our wish to wear the ‘OneLove’ armband to actively support inclusion in football, and had no response. Our players and coaches are disappointed — they are strong supporters of inclusion and will show support in other ways.”
Qatar’s treatment and repressive laws against the LGBTQ community have been under a microscope since FIFA curiously awarded the tiny Middle East country the World Cup in 2010. Male homosexuality is illegal in the Muslim nation and carries a sentence of up to three years in prison. Despite being one of 69 countries that criminalizes homosexuality, the Qatari government has said that LGBTQ fans are welcome in the country for the 32-team tournament.
The concern was turned up after Qatar World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman said during a German television interview two weeks ago that homosexuality is “damage in the mind.”
“They have to accept our rules here,” he said.
Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand told reporters in Qatar that opening a match with a yellow card for their captain is a significant disadvantage. Two yellow cards in one match lead to that player’s removal from the game and the next.
“Imagine going on the pitch with a clear yellow card to start with,” Hjulmand said. “That is not possible.”
“This is not something invented for this occasion,” he continued about the armbands. “It’s something we have done before. I can’t see the problem, to be honest. For me, it’s also a big question mark.”
German soccer federation president Bernd Neuendorf called the decision by FIFA “unprecedented.”
“FIFA today prohibited a statement for diversity and human rights — those are values to which it is committed in its own statutes,” Neuendorf told reporters in Qatar. “From our point of view, this is more than frustrating and, I think, an unprecedented action in World Cup history.”
The decision by FIFA was the latest in a series of moves by either the federation or the host country that angered many in the soccer community. Three days earlier, beer sales just outside stadiums was banned, and FIFA president Gianni Infantino offered a passionate defense of Qatar’s human rights record.
FIFA did announce, though, that they’re allowing the captains of all 32 teams to wear “No Discrimination” armbands throughout the entire World Cup.
This article was based in part on wire service reports.