Trophy over solidarity: FIFA’s clear message
Amy Rushton deciphers the decision that FIFA and the FA have made by banning One Love Armbands in Quatar.
The unfortunate reality of activism is that taking a stand requires sacrifice. As the recent World Cup dispute over the One Love armband has demonstrated, concerns over LGBTQ+ rights have been deemed unworthy of such a sacrifice.
The One Love armband started as a symbolic campaign initiated by the Dutch Football Association in 2020 in order to condemn discrimination. Its symbol, a rainbow-patterned heart, calls for a focus on LGBTQ+ rights in football. It’s difficult to deny the need for this- the sport has a long way to go towards inclusion, with so few male footballers being openly gay and a long-standing culture of harassment warding many LGBTQ+ fans away.
This has become even more of a necessity due to the much-criticised decision to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar- one of 69 countries where same-sex relationships are illegal, and LGBTQ+ people face intense persecution and violence. In response, England’s Football Association (FA), alongside six other European countries declared an intention for their captains to wear the One Love armband, a move which was quickly abandoned after FIFA responded with the threat of a yellow card.
In response, England’s Football Association (FA), alongside six other European countries declared an intention for their captains to wear the One Love armband, a move which was quickly abandoned after FIFA responded with the threat of a yellow card.
One Love has become a defining dispute of the World Cup; FIFA has addressed concerns through empty statements such as the speech by its president, Gianni Infantino, in which he accused critics of hypocrisy and holding Qatar to western values. A similar line has been adopted by critics of the One Love campaign, such as Qatar’s secretary general of the World Cup organising committee, Hassan al-Thawadi, who claimed One Love was Islamophobic and divisive. Others have objected to FIFA’s stance, arguing the refusal to take a stand illustrates a lack of solidarity for the LGBTQ+ fans who are not welcome at this World Cup, as well as the LGBTQ+ people living in oppressive regimes like Qatar, which is now being actively supported by FIFA and football fans. The decision has not been accepted by everyone; some reporters have continued to wear the armband such as the BBC pundit Alex Scott, and the German team protested by placing their hands over their mouths to represent the silencing by FIFA. Fans too have worn rainbow symbols, though many of these were confiscated by Qatar’s officials.
The FA has also criticised FIFA, issuing a statement placing blame on FIFA and claiming, “As national federations, we can’t let our players face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked our captains not to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games”. Instead, captains will wear FIFA-approved armbands, sporting a “No Discrimination” message.
The One Love armbands were a vague and empty gesture, but the “No Discrimination” ones are exponentially more so. When compared with actions like that of Iran’s team refusing to sing the national anthem–and so risking retaliation in solidarity with protests over the death of Mahsa Amini– the FA refusing to wear armbands in solidarity with LGBTQ+ rights shows where they really stand. FIFA and the FA sent a clear message with this decision: when it’s a choice between sacrificing sporting success and profit for LGBTQ+ rights, it’s the rights and welfare of LGBTQ+ people which are up for negotiation.