The captains of seven European teams at the World Cup — including heavy-hitters England, Germany, and the Netherlands — will no longer be wearing armbands in support of the LGBTQ community following threats from international soccer’s governing body, FIFA, The Washington Post reports.
The armbands would have been a pointed protest against the host nation, Qatar, where consensual same-sex relations between men are punishable by up to seven years in prison, according to the U.S. State Department. (There are no specific laws regarding consensual same-sex relations between women, though women, in general, face various forms of social and legal discrimination in Qatar.) Qatar’s laws against homosexuality are one of many issues — alongside allegations of vast human rights abuses — that have drawn international ire in the lead-up to the 2022 World Cup.
Along with England, Germany, and the Netherlands, the captains of Belgium, Wales, Denmark, and Switzerland had also planned to wear the OneLove rainbow armband in the early stages of the World Cup (England, Wales, and the Netherlands all play today, Nov. 21). While all seven nations expected some kind of penalty over the armband, FIFA pointedly decided not to issue the kinds of fines typically doled out for uniform violations, but yellow cards.
“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband,” the soccer associations for the seven countries said in a joint statement. “However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.”
Yellow cards are cautions typically issued for play that’s considered dangerous but not so severe that it warrants a red card and an immediate ejection. However, two yellows equal a red and having a captain issued one at the start of a game would immediately put that player, and their team, at a disadvantage.
“We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision, which we believe is unprecedented,” the soccer association said. “As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings.”
In rejecting the OneLove armband, FIFA — as it has done in the 12 years since its controversial decision to give Qatar the World Cup — tried to salvage some face by boosting its #NoDiscrimination armband, which was set to be rolled out in the quarterfinals of the tournament. FIFA president Gianni Infantino also issued a statement where he again tried to toe the line between insisting he supported LGBTQ people and fans and not upsetting the host nation.
“I have been speaking about this subject with the country’s highest leadership,” Infantino said. “They have confirmed, and I can confirm that everyone is welcome. If anyone says the opposite, well it’s not the opinion of the country and it’s certainly not the opinion of FIFA.”