Football’s global governing body is at odds with seven European countries over the threat of sanctions for any player wearing a ‘OneLove’ armband during matches.
The announcement of FIFA’s eleventh hour has sparked a rift between the governing body and the seven countries involved, though neither side has come free from criticism.
The ‘OneLove’ bracelet – with the outline of a heart in different colors – was intended to be worn by captains from England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Wales during the World Cup to promote inclusion and show solidarity with people of different genders and sexual identities.
But hours before England captain Harry Kane was due to wear the armband against Iran on Monday, FIFA said any player wearing the armbands would receive a yellow card, putting them at risk of being sent off or banned from an later match in the tournament.
FIFA rules state that team captains must wear armbands provided by the governing body, even though it said it “supports all legitimate causes, such as ‘OneLove’.”
The debacle rumbled on as an afterthought to the tournament itself.
While players like Kane did not wear the bracelet, Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib did when she spoke to FIFA President Gianni Infantino during the World Cup match between Belgium and Canada on Wednesday.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser also wore the armband when Infantino was close by during her country’s 2-1 defeat to Japan.
In a joint statement, the seven European federations said they had asked their captains not to wear the “OneLove” bracelet because they “could not put players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions, including bookings.”
But some former players believe it would have been a risk worth taking.
“That would have been a great statement,” said former Republic of Ireland midfielder Roy Keane as pundit on ITV. “Do it for the first game, [and] if you got your yellow card, what a message that would have been.”
But others have wondered how much of an impact the gesture could have in Qatar, a country where sex between men is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison.
“In conversations I’ve had with people from the LGBTQI+ community, that coverage has already been described as vague and without a real explanation of what it’s actually trying to achieve,” Australian midfielder Jackson Irvine told reporters.
One campaign group agrees.
“The ‘OneLove’ bracelet was nothing more than a symbolic gesture,” Khya Gott, a representative for Pride in Football, told DailyExpertNews Sport.
“It didn’t make the dramatic statements they wanted. Player gestures are important and much needed, but only if they are done correctly.”
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