World Cup organizers threatened on Monday to yellow cards any player wearing a rainbow armband during the match, intensifying a fight that began in support of gay rights but has turned into a showdown between world football’s governing bodies and a handful of European players. nation.
England national football captain Harry Kane is expected to become the first player at this World Cup to wear a colored armband with the words “One Love”. Instead, he showed up in England’s tournament opener against Iran wearing an armband bearing the logo of FIFA’s own “No Discrimination” campaign, which was hastily rolled out in an apparent attempt to sabotage the One Love programme.
The “One Love” armband is intended to show support for minorities, as the treatment of the LGBTQ community in Qatar continues to receive attention, with homosexuality a crime. A group of European football federations have banded together in a plan to challenge the strict uniform rules of world football’s governing body FIFA and wear them on football’s biggest stage, the World Cup.
On Monday, however, the two teams said that threats of discipline from FIFA made that impossible. Its decision to target players in such a direct manner at such a high-profile event is almost unprecedented and underscores the tension it is grappling with in Qatar. Just three days ago FIFA angered a longtime business partner by announcing that beer would no longer be served in all eight World Cup stadiums.
The latest decision will bring further scrutiny to FIFA; FIFA president Gianni Infantino; and tournament host Qatar. Qatar is increasingly emphasizing that the event is in keeping with its traditions and customs. In the conservative Muslim emirate of Qatar, the sale of beer is strictly controlled and homosexuality is a crime.
In discussions over the weekend, teams appeared willing to accept fines for uniform violations. But they face a new threat by Monday, according to a statement from seven European teams, including England, Wales and the Netherlands, who play their tournament opener on Monday. Fifa did not respond to a letter from teams in September informing them of its intentions, and instead waited until hours before the first match before threatening to issue yellow cards to players wearing unauthorized armbands.
Starting a game with a yellow card means that the player who starts the match risks receiving a second yellow card during the match. A player can play with one yellow card, but two yellow cards lead to a red card – leading to expulsion and then a suspension for the next match.
As a result, teams say they have no choice but to ask players not to risk punishment.
“FIFA has made it very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captain wears the armband on the pitch,” the seven teams said in a joint statement. “As a national federation, we cannot put our players in a situation where they could face sporting sanctions including a yellow card, so we have asked captains not to attempt to wear armbands at FIFA World Cup matches.
“We are prepared to pay the fines that normally apply for equipment violations and are firmly committed to wearing armbands. However, we cannot put our players in a situation where they could be booked or even sent off.”
The statement was issued jointly by the football associations of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
“We are deeply dismayed by FIFA’s decision, which we consider unprecedented,” the federation said. A meeting between Fifa and European Union officials ended without a resolution on Sunday, with officials from the countries involved insisting they would press ahead. By Monday, that determination had apparently dissipated, even though the symbols they chose to make their point were not quite the same colors as the pride flag. Their efforts appeared to be aimed at satisfying the demands of domestic pressure groups without angering hosts Qatar. But in the end even that was too much.
Oliver Bierhoff, Germany’s director, said FIFA had “escalated” the situation overnight. Germany will start their match against Japan on Wednesday. Bierhoff said Germany captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer went to bed on Sunday “believing he would wear the armband.” Put on the captain’s armband.
But it was FIFA who had the final say, again making what appeared to be a decision in favor of hosts Qatar at the 11th hour. FIFA president Gianni Infantino came out to the Gulf nation’s defense on Saturday, outlining why criticism of the country was wrong in a nearly hour-long monologue, accusing the European nation of “hypocrisy” and “preaching”.
The decision could undercut FIFA’s efforts to emphasize its own role in promoting human rights. For example, ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, it teamed up with Human Rights Watch to release a message in support of Iranian women’s rights to watch games in stadiums, a long-standing ban that is largely still in effect. FIFA’s position at the time was that human rights and women’s rights were not political.
The group has been trying to steer the team away from anything that could be seen as a political posturing. Its rules on whether field penalties can be taken appear to be vague enough to encourage teams to push through statements.
DFB president Bernd Neuendorf said the result was “a show of force by FIFA”.
FIFA said in a statement that it had come up with its own “non-discrimination” campaign, which was supposed to start running in the quarter-finals, so captains could wear armbands with the logo during the World Cup.
Some activist groups have responded by criticizing FIFA for shutting down what they already see as a weak show of minority support.
“What started as a symbolic gesture has turned into yet another embarrassment for FIFA,” Pride in Football, a network of British LGBTQ fan groups, wrote on Twitter. They have waited until now to threaten sanctions. FIFA has taken away the fundamental and most fundamental right to free speech from players.”
Football Supporters Europe, the supporters’ umbrella organization, described FIFA’s decision as a betrayal.
“Today we are disdainful of an organization that shows its true worth by yellow cards for players and red cards for tolerance,” it said in a statement. “Since 2010 we have been questioning Qatar’s suitability for hosting the World Cup Everyone could have foreseen this and it’s amazing that on the morning of England’s World Cup opener, FIFA is trying to censor players who share positive messages.”