Teams abandon plan to wear One Love armbands at World Cup and threaten penalties


FIFA’s threats of playing time penalties for players forced several World Cup teams to back down on Monday and abandon an anti-discrimination campaign against host country Qatar.

The captains of seven European nations will not wear armbands supporting the ‘One Love’ campaign in forthcoming games after FIFA announced players would see yellow cards, which would keep them off the field for a period of time. Players who received multiple yellow cards for repeated offenses were disqualified from a game.

The decision was made three days after the beer went on sale in the World Cup stadiums suddenly forbidden under pressure from the Qatar government and two days after FIFA President Gianni Infantino delivered an extraordinary tirade in defense of the host country’s human rights record.

“As national associations, we cannot put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions, including warnings,” the seven football associations said in a joint statement. A further statement from the Royal Netherlands Football Association said that hours before the first game, FIFA had officially clarified its stance on players wearing armbands.

The relegation after threats from FIFA came hours before England’s Harry Kane, Dutchman Virgil van Dijk and Wales’ Gareth Bale were due to wear the armbands in Monday’s games. The captains of Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark had also agreed to wear the armbands in the coming days.

“Our top priority at the World Cup is to win the matches,” the Dutch Football Association said in a separate statement. “Then you don’t want the captain to start the game with a yellow card.”

Monday’s decision sheds light on the political situation surrounding the first World Cup in the Middle East – even after Infantino urged all 32 national teams to keep politics off the pitch.

For years since Qatar won the rights to host the World Cup in 2010, it has faced criticism for its treatment of hundreds of low-paid migrant workers died while helping the country prepare for the football tournament as well as with its anti-LGBTQ laws and the criminalization of gay and lesbian sex. Ahead of the World Cup, Human Rights Watch released a series of reports documenting the arrests of LGBTQ people after authorities monitored their online activities and the abuse of LGBTQ people while in detention.

WCup Bracelet Dispute Soccer
England’s Harry Kane wears a rainbow armband as he takes the knee ahead of the 2020 European Football Championship at Wembley Stadium in England.

Justin Tallis, pool photo via AP

FIFA on Sunday raised the prospect of yellow cards during a sensitive meeting with European football’s governing bodies, including the seven teams that have pledged to wear the armband.

The One Love campaign was launched in the Netherlands and its symbol is a heart-shaped multicolored logo, aiming to promote inclusion and diversity in football and in society.

However, the European plans clearly flouted World Cup regulations and FIFA’s general rules on team kits at their matches.

“At FIFA finals, the captain of each team must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA,” states the Football Association’s kit regulations.

The armband dispute flared up two months ago when 10 European sides said they had joined the longer-running campaign in Dutch football, but it was still unresolved when the seven sides arrived in Qatar.

FIFA offered a compromise of its own on Monday, saying the captains of all 32 teams “will have the option” to wear an armband with the slogan “No Discrimination” in group matches.

FIFA’s original offer on Saturday was that ‘No Discrimination’ – the only slogan it chose that matched what European teams wanted – would only appear in the quarter-finals.

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