Just a day after the 2022 World Cup started, in a joint statement, Seven European teams have scrapped plans to wear rainbow-colored anti-discrimination captains’ armbands at the tournament after FIFA threatened them with “sporting sanctions.”
Originally, the plan was that their captains would wear the “One Love” armbands, which are part of a broader campaign originally launched by the Dutch soccer federation (KNBV) against discrimination, Englands, Wales, and other countries said months ago, and even on the day the World Cup started.
This is what the KNBV said in September: “The colors in the heart of the logo represent everyone’s pride in their own origin, color, gender identity and sexual orientation,” reported Yahoo News.
But until the eve of the tournament, FIFA did not respond to or engage with the European federations. And when that happened it was “very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play,” the European nations, which also include Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Denmark, said in their statement.
The statement also said: “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.”
The campaign was adopted by the seven nations, plus France and two others not at the World Cup, ahead of the 2022 tournament, implicitly in light of Qatari laws that restrict, among other things, LGBTQ rights.
The penalty code in Qatar punishes gay sex and “leading, instigating, or seducing a male to commit sodomy or dissipation” with multiple years in prison.
“Everybody is welcome” is what World Cup organizers said during the tournament. But some fans still remained worried, as Qatari laws have not been suspended or repealed, so LGBTQ people in Qatar and elsewhere still face discrimination.
The European teams said that the armbands – which were intended “to actively support inclusion in football” – were seen as a significant statement of solidarity with the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups. The armbands read “ONE LOVE” and display a heart with an array of colors similar, though not identical, to the ones that represent LGBTQ pride.
On the eve of the tournament, FIFA announced its own campaign featuring captain’s armbands instead, in partnership with United Nations agencies.
“Messaging opportunities will be provided to the participating teams via” different armbands for each round of games, FIFA said in a new release.
But none of them specifically support LGBTQ rights or labor rights, which are the Qatar World Cup’s two most contentious topics.
“#FootballUnitesTheWorld,” “#SaveThePlanet,” “#ProtectChildren,” “#ShareTheMeal,” “#EducationForAll,” “#FootballForSchools,” “#NoDiscrimination,” “#BeActive,” “#BringTheMoves,” are the uniform messages.
Whether FIFA’s armbands are optional or required, is still not clear, but the “One Love” armbands, however, could have run afoul of FIFA rules that restrict activism.
FIFA’s equipment regulations bar any “item” that “FIFA considers dangerous, offensive or indecent,” or that “includes political, religious, or personal slogans, statements, or images.”
While many in Qatar and elsewhere around the world would take exception, many Westerners would consider the broad anti-discrimination message behind the “One Love” armbands apolitical. On matters ranging from alcohol to labor rights, FIFA has had to balance the interests and sensibilities of the West with those of Qatar.
When asked about the armbands, Infantino said: “We have clear regulations on armbands.”
“We have and engage in campaigns on different topics, campaigns which are universal. We need to find topics that everyone can adhere to. This is an important element for us,” he added.
As the World Cup approached, Infantino has been accused of parroting Qatari government messages and caving to the royal family.
The Football Supporters Association, an umbrella group representing fans in England and Wales, said in a statement: “Today LGBT+ football supporters and their allies will feel angry. Today we feel betrayed.”
“Today we feel contempt for an organization [FIFA] that has shown its true values by giving the yellow card to players and the red card to tolerance,” the statement said.
There is nothing in FIFA’s statutes or World Cup regulations that call for “sporting sanctions” for uniform violations, as the European teams implicitly mentioned. In other cases, the typical sanctions have been fines, but this threat of yellow cards appears to be above and beyond the laws of the game.
The European teams said this in their statement: “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented. Our players and coaches are disappointed – they are strong supporters of inclusion and will show support in other ways.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: maybe the teams should just wear their flag and skip the woke rainbow nonsense.