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‘We are very frustrated’: World Cup teams in Qatar ax pro-LGBTQ armbands after FIFA threat

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A detailed view of the ‘ONE-LOVE’ captains armband worn by Georginio Wijnaldum of Netherlands is seen during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship in Budapest, Hungary.
Alex Livesey – Uefa | Uefa | Getty Images

The European teams competing at the 2022 Qatar World Cup walked back their plans to wear “OneLove” armbands in support of LGBTQ rights during the tournament, they announced Monday, after warnings from international soccer governing body FIFA that they would be penalized for doing so.

Captains of the teams from the seven European nations competing in the World Cup — England, Wales, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands — made the announcement concerning the rainbow armbands, which are meant to signal support for diversity and inclusion.

In an unprecedented move just hours before matches began, FIFA warned it would issue a yellow card to any player wearing the armband. Two yellow cards in a game mean the player is sent off the field.

“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 said. “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,” the statement added. “However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.” The teams from England, Wales and the Netherlands were all slated to play on Monday.

“We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented,” the teams’ joint statement added and pledged to express their support for inclusion by other means.

Qatar fans are pictured ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, November 18, 2022.
Marko Djurica | Reuters

The hosting of the World Cup by Qatar, a tiny and religiously conservative gas-rich sheikhdom in the Gulf, was controversial from the outset when it first won this year’s bid in 2010.

In addition to lacking the sufficient infrastructure and capacity for such a tournament at the time, critics sounded the alarm over the country’s human rights record, including for migrant workers and the LGBTQ community. Homosexuality is a crime in Qatar, as in much of the rest of the Muslim world, and men caught in sexual acts with one another can face several years of imprisonment or even the death penalty.

FIFA, which has vocally come to Qatar’s defense on these issues, rejected the “OneLove” campaign and instead has promoted its own “No Discrimination” campaign, which features different armbands.

“FIFA is an inclusive organization that wants to put football to the benefit of society by supporting good and legitimate causes, but it has to be done within the framework of the competition regulations which are known to everyone,” FIFA said in a statement Monday.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino (2ndR) and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group A match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar.
Amin Mohammad Jamali | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

“FIFA can confirm its No Discrimination campaign has been brought forward from the planned quarter-finals stage in order that all 32 captains will have the opportunity to wear this armband during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”

It added that the organization’s president, Gianni Infantino, supported the LGBTQ community.

“FIFA President Gianni Infantino has reiterated his support of the LGBTQI+ community during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” the statement said.

It then quoted Infantino as saying, “I have been speaking about this subject with the country’s highest leadership. They have confirmed, and I can confirm that everyone is welcome. If anyone says the opposite, well it’s not the opinion of the country and it’s certainly not the opinion of FIFA.”

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