Prior to the World Cup, FIFA President Gianni Infantino urged the 32 teams heading to Qatar to “let football take center stage” and “focus on football”, but just a few days into the tournament, this desire did not quite go according to plan. .
First, a last-minute ban on the consumption of alcohol in and around stadiums was introduced. There were then numerous empty seats in the middle of the game as host country Qatar lost to Ecuador. On Monday, a major spat between FIFA and seven European nations ended with those nations scrapping plans to require their captains to wear a special last-minute anti-discrimination armband.
– World Cup teams ditch ‘One Love’ headband due to FIFA scandal
Just over three hours before England, Wales, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark started their game against Iran in the first Group B match at the Khalifa International Stadium, the participating nations issued a joint statement confirming that they would not to wear uniform. Armband OneLove after learning that each captain will receive a yellow card at the start of the match.
FIFA insists the yellow card has been reported as a possible consequence in the past 48 hours, but no matter what you believe, a tournament mired in controversy for years in preparation is still marred by problems off the field even after the start of the matches.
What is a OneLove bandage?
Amid widespread concern over the human rights situation in Qatar, various European countries have held talks about whether an agreement on a collective gesture can be found during international matches.
Sources led by the Netherlands Football Association (known as the KNVB) told Sportzshala that 10 countries were in contact – the seven mentioned above – plus Norway, Sweden and France. In September, nine countries (excluding France) announced the creation of the OneLove armband, designed to “harness the power of football to promote inclusiveness and speak out against discrimination of any kind when the world’s eyes are on the global game.” as stated in the accompanying newscast at the time. In response, UEFA confirmed in a statement that it “fully supports” the OneLove campaign, adding that it “also approved the use of armbands during the September international window for those associations that have reached out to us.”
Notably, this quick approval – UEFA generally rejects any member country claims that could be construed as a political statement – meant that there were no detailed discussions of the possible consequences when the same plan was applied to the World Cup, the tournament held by FIFA. Sources told Sportzshala that the rules for the euro, for example, are quite broad and UEFA would provide guidance on relevant issues regarding the use of “special equipment”, as armbands are classified.
So why was this such a problem at the World Cup?
The Qatar Supreme Committee and FIFA have repeatedly insisted that “everyone is welcome” amid concerns about the treatment of LGBTQIA+ people in the Gulf state. Same-sex relationships are illegal in the country and in some cases punishable by death, making the use of the rainbow armband a very sensitive topic.
KNVB’s explanation of how OneLove’s heart colors were defined: red/black/green were for everyone regardless of background or background, while pink/yellow/blue were used to represent all genders and sexual identities. The seven participating countries that qualified for Qatar (Norway and Sweden did not qualify) made it clear long before the tournament that they planned to wear the armband in Qatar, and it seemed that the only consequence of this would be a FIFA fine for the respective associations saying they were ready pay.
However, when the teams arrived in Qatar and began preparations, rumors spread about possible yellow cards for each captain. There were rumors that if they decided to wear an armband, they would enter the field at the beginning of the game, and at the beginning of the match they would receive a yellow card. FIFA did not publicly confirm the accuracy of the information until early Monday morning, despite repeated requests for comment, which left the countries participating in the action with little time for discussion.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, whose position on the field minimizes the risk of receiving a yellow card, insisted he will still wear the bandage. On Sunday, Netherlands skipper Virgil van Dijk was less enthusiastic about discussing the situation again, but, nevertheless, reaffirmed his support. Around the same time, England boss Gareth Southgate privately believed the issue was over, and a few hours later Harry Kane confirmed his intention to wear the armband no matter what.
Sources told Sportzshala that the English Football Federation was in dialogue with FIFA, but there was no mention of Kane receiving a warning for the gesture as of Sunday evening in Qatar. And so, when conversations between FIFA and national associations continued on Monday morning, FIFA confirmed that the captains would be warned, and it became clear that sporting sanctions were too risky.
Theoretically, every captain could be banned twice during a tournament if penalized in all seven matches, and that’s without taking into account the obvious disciplinary rope they would walk in every game to avoid another punitive infraction. According to FIFA rules, a player booked in the first two group stage matches will miss the third group match. He will then be eligible to return to the last 16, but bookings at this stage and in the quarter-finals will mean the player will miss out on the semi-finals (if his team has advanced), setting the stage for his return to the final.
So what does this mean for the rest of the tournament and the ongoing political backdrop?
Monday’s reversal only reinforced lingering suspicions that FIFA and Qatar are only willing to promote diversity and inclusion if it’s on their terms. Literally the day before the tournament FIFA has announced its own version anti-discrimination bandages as part of the No Discrimination campaign. On Monday, they also ordered Belgium to remove the words “love” from the collar of their T-shirt without the possibility of discussion.
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Various nations are dissatisfied. The head of the German football association, Bernd Neuendorf, called the threat of sports sanctions from FIFA “an unprecedented show of force.” However, FIFA insists that these countries should not have been surprised.
Article 13.8.1 of the FIFA Equipment Rules states: “For FIFA final competitions, the captain of each team must wear a FIFA-provided captain’s armband.” A press release issued on Monday said: “FIFA is an inclusive organization that wants to make football work for the benefit of society by supporting good and legitimate causes, but this must be done within the rules of the competition, which are known to all. “
However, this is another issue off the pitch that highlights the longstanding tension between typical World Cup values and Qatari culture. In their joint statements, the seven countries said: “Our players and coaches are disappointed. They strongly support inclusion and will provide support in other ways.” This series may not be finished yet.