European soccer teams have been pressured into dropping armbands expressing solidarity with the LGBT community which were going to be worn during games at the Qatar World Cup.
The rainbow-colored “OneLove” armbands were set to be worn by several team captains as a message of inclusion and equality throughout the tournament.
LGBT rights have been central to the torrent criticisms leveled against the 2010 decision to allow the conservative Muslim nation of Qatar to host the world’s most-watched sporting event. Homosexuality can be punished by the country’s secular courts with life imprisonment, while its Sharia courts can impose the death penalty for gay sex between men. Earlier this month, an official FIFA Qatar World Cup Ambassador described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” during an interview.
Hours before the armbands were due to be worn in defiance of the local laws, FIFA made an unprecedented threat to issue a yellow card to any captain wearing the symbol. Two yellows for a player would see them ejected from the game, and so a group of teams announced Monday that they would no longer risk making the statement of support.
“FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play. 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,” a joint statement from the Football Associations of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland said.
The associations added that they would have been happy to “pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations,” but they would not put their players in a position where they could be “forced to leave the field of play.”
“We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented—we wrote to FIFA in September informing them of our wish to wear the One Love armband to actively support inclusion in football, and had no response,” the statement added.
Wales captain Gareth Bale had planned to wear the armband during their opening fixture against the U.S. national soccer team Monday. England captain Harry Kane would have been the first to wear the band during his nation’s opening game against Iran earlier in the day. England coach Gareth Southgate confirmed over the weekend that his players would still take a knee before each World Cup game as a separate antidiscrimination message.
International human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have been critical of Qatar’s treatment of LGBT people and FIFA’s willingness to overlook the issue in awarding soccer’s most highly-prized tournament. Individuals promoting the Qatar World Cup have also been subject to protest. On Sunday, British comedian Joe Lycett livestreamed himself throwing around $11,800 into a shredder in protest of soccer star David Beckham promoting the tournament after his years of public support for the LGBT community.
The tournament got underway in the Al Bayt stadium Sunday night, with Qartar’s 2-0 loss to Ecuador making them the first hosts in World Cup history to lose their opening game.