Seven European teams have abandoned plans for their captains to wear rainbow-themed armbands at the World Cup after FIFA threatened to issue yellow cards to any players who did so.
The climbdown came just hours before England’s Harry Kane, the Netherlands’ Virgil van Dijk and Wales’ Gareth Bale were due to wear the “OneLove” armbands in Monday’s group-stage games.
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Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany had also originally planned to take part in the campaign, which backers said was aimed at promoting inclusion.
But the seven football associations said in a joint statement that they couldn’t sacrifice success on the field for the initiative, which had also been widely viewed as a protest against laws in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
“FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play,” the associations said in a joint statement.
The European plans were in breach of World Cup regulations and FIFA’s general rules on team equipment at its games.
“For FIFA final competitions, the captain of each team must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA,” the governing body’s equipment regulations state.
The associations said they had written to FIFA in September to notify the Switzerland-based organisation of their plans involving the “OneLove” armband but had not received any response.
They added they had been prepared to “pay fines” that would typically apply to breaches of kit regulations, but could not put their players “in the situation where they might be booked, or even forced to leave the field of play”.
The risk of getting a second yellow, which would see a player sent off the field for the rest of the game and banned from the next, is particularly tricky in a tournament where teams play only three games before the knockout rounds begin.
“We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision, which we believe is unprecedented,” the football associations’ statement said.
‘Freedom of speech being crushed by FIFA’
The developments attracted swift and scathing criticism from groups representing the LGBTQ community and rights groups.
More than disappointing that @FIFAWorldCup @FIFAcom silence & deflection means European captains face starting games with yellow cards for trying to highlight issues around human rights. Their basic rights to freedom of speech & expression being crushed by FIFA #NoPrideWithoutAll
— 3LIONSPRIDE 🌈🦁🦁🦁⚽️🏴🏳️🌈 (@3Lionspride) November 21, 2022
FIFA brings forward ‘no discrimination’ campaign
Wear it Skipper. Take everything thrown at you. It's about more than Football.
It's about everyone's right to feel safe in our sport. pic.twitter.com/pbqfYN7UrC
— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) November 21, 2022
The criminalisation of same-sex relations in Qatar has been a long-running controversy in the build-up to the World Cup.
Former Qatari international footballer and World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman sparked outrage earlier this month after calling homosexuality “damage in the mind” during an interview with a German media outlet.
Qatar has repeatedly stated that everyone was welcome to attend the tournament.