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Europe teams won’t use LGBTQ armbands at World Cup after FIFA threats

The OneLove armband was designed as part of a campaign to promote inclusivity. (Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images)
5 min

Soccer teams representing seven European nations at the World Cup announced Monday that their captains won’t wear LGBTQ armbands in Qatar after FIFA, which organizes the tournament, said players sporting the bands would be penalized.

The captains of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland had intended to wear the OneLove rainbow armband to promote diversity and inclusion at the World Cup.

“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 soccer associations said in a joint statement. Three of the teams — England, Wales and the Netherlands — were scheduled to play Monday.

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“We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented,” the teams added, promising to show support for “inclusion” in other ways. “As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings.”

Qatar has come under scrutiny in the lead-up to the tournament over its approach to human rights, including concerns over the conditions of migrant workers and the conservative Persian Gulf state’s stance on LGBTQ people. Sex between men is prohibited in Qatar and punishable by up to seven years in prison, according to a recent U.S. State Department report.

World Cup 2022, which kicks-off in Qatar on Nov. 20, has been surrounded by controversy since it was announced the tiny desert nation would host the tournament. (Video: The Washington Post)

Grant Wahl, an American soccer writer, said he was stopped by a security guard Monday at the United States vs. Wales game for wearing a shirt with a rainbow on it.

Wahl later said he was detained for half an hour in an “unnecessary ordeal” but ultimately allowed into the stadium. “Go gays,” he wrote on Twitter with a rainbow emoji.

Peter Bossaert, CEO of the Belgian Football Association, told local media Monday that the national team had been forced by FIFA to remove the word “Love” from its away kit — even though it was fastened to the inside of the shirt.

“The word ‘Love’ must disappear,” Bossaert told Belgian reporters on Monday.

“It’s sad,” he said. “But FIFA leaves us no choice.”

The OneLove campaign was originally conceived by the Dutch soccer team, and at first 10 European teams signed up for it in September. They agreed that their captains would wear a rainbow armband to send a message against discrimination and promote inclusion.

The Dutch were the first to announce publicly that captain Virgil van Dijk would not wear the armband. “Hours before the first game, it has been made clear to us from FIFA [officially] that the captain will receive a yellow card if he wears the ‘OneLove’ captain’s armband,” the KNVB, the country’s football association, said in a statement. “We deeply regret that it was not possible to reach a reasonable solution together.”

“We stand for the ‘OneLove’ message and will continue to spread it, but our No. 1 priority at the World Cup is to win the games,” the statement continued. “You don’t want the captain to start the match with a yellow card. That is why it is with a heavy heart that we as a UEFA working group, KNVB and as a team had to decide to abandon our plan.”

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Penalizing team captains before the games begin would impose a competitive disadvantage from the outset, with a second yellow card during a match bringing ejection.

While the basis of any possible FIFA sanctions against players has not been made public, according to Article 4.3 of the FIFA equipment regulations, no items of clothing or equipment can be worn if they are considered “dangerous, offensive or indecent” or include “political, religious or personal slogans.”

FIFA has proposed that national captains wear armbands from its separate “No Discrimination” campaign that it had planned to begin with the quarterfinals.

In a separate statement Monday, the global soccer organization said it had brought forward the beginning of its “No Discrimination” campaign to allow all 32 national captains to wear that armband throughout the entire tournament.

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“FIFA is an inclusive organisation 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,” the statement said.

The Football Association of Wales expressed frustration and disappointment in a statement, but added: “We remain with the belief that football is for everyone and stand with our LGBTQ+ members of the Welsh football family. Football for everyone.”

The Football Supporters’ Association, a group representing fans from England and Wales, said in a statement that LGBTQ fans felt angry and betrayed by FIFA’s decision.

“Today we feel contempt for an organisation that has shown its true values by giving the yellow card to players and a red card for tolerance,” the group said.

In an interview with BBC Radio, former England captain Alan Shearer said that while the timing of the decision was “not fair” to players, he would have worn the armband anyway.

“That would pose a bigger question and a bigger problem for FIFA than them not wearing it, and that’s what I would do, if I could,” Shearer said.

World Cup in Qatar

World champions: Argentina has won the World Cup, defeating France in penalty kicks in a thrilling final in Lusail, Qatar, for its first world championship since 1986. Argentina was led by global soccer star Lionel Messi in what is expected to be his final World Cup appearance. France was bidding to become the first repeat champion since Brazil won consecutive trophies in 1958 and 1962.

Today’s WorldView: In the minds of many critics, especially in the West, Qatar’s World Cup will always be a tournament shrouded in controversy. But Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, wants people to take another view.

Perspective: “America is not a men’s soccer laughingstock right now. It’s onto something, and it’s more attuned to what’s working for the rest of the world rather than stubbornly forcing an American sports culture — without the benefit of best-of-the-best talent — into international competition.” Read Jerry Brewer on the U.S. men’s national team’s future.