World Cup teams drop rainbow armband plans after FIFA threat

SEVEN national football teams, including England, will not wear a rainbow armband showing solidarity with LGBTQ rights, bowing to pressure from FIFA because players might receive a yellow card for the show of support.

The football associations of England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland said they made the decision in light of a threat from FIFA that captains who wear the OneLove armbands may face “sporting sanctions”.

“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,” the football associations said in a joint statement. “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented.” Some associations had expected that teams would face fines for breaching kit rules rather than sporting sanctions.

Several European teams stated their intention before the start of the tournament to wear the armbands in support of LGBTQ rights amid the backdrop of the World Cup being held in Qatar, where same-sex marriage is illegal.

Before the England and Iran teams started their match against each other on Monday, England players took the knee; captain Harry Kane wasn’t wearing a rainbow armband. Iranian players, meanwhile, refused to sing their national anthem. The gesture is likely to be seen as a pledge of support for the anti-government protests gripping Iran and comes after the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned athletes not to show “disrespect.”

“Two days ago FIFA’s president spoke of inclusivity but this ruling shows his true colours,” said LGBTQ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell in an emailed statement. “I urge the team captains at their post-match press conferences to spend just 30 seconds to speak out for the rights of women, LGBTs and migrant workers. That would have a huge impact.”

The controversy is the latest development in a tumultuous start to the sporting event, after FIFA president Gianni Infantino sparked a backlash in a speech when he said, “Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled.” Speaking on Saturday and addressing criticism of choosing Qatar to host the tournament given its human rights record on LGBTQ rights, gender equality and migrant workers ahead of the tournament’s opening the next day, he said, “I know what it means to be discriminated” against.

In response to the requests from the football associations, FIFA said that captains of every team will be able to wear a No Discrimination armband.

“We share the FA’s frustration with FIFA’s decision on this, which puts players in a very difficult position. It is ultimately a decision for the FA,” UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman Max Blain told reporters at a regular briefing on Monday. “On LGBT rights more broadly, clearly Qatar’s policies are not those of the UK government and not ones we would endorse.”

“That FIFA wants to punish us on the field for this has never been seen,” the Dutch football association KNVB said in an online statement, which also said the governing body would have paid a potential fine for their team captain wearing the armband. “This goes against the spirit of our sport that connects millions of people.” – BLOOMBERG