The soccer captains of seven European teams were set to wear rainbow armbands during Qatar’s World Cup to promote a message of LGBTQ inclusion in a nation where homosexuality is illegal. But after facing heat from the sport’s ruling body FIFA, none of them will.
In a statement on Monday, England’s soccer governing body the Football Association and its Welsh equivalent joined the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, and Belgium to confirm that threats of sporting sanctions from FIFA left them no choice but to abandon the One Love campaign gesture they announced in September.
“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,” their joint statement read. They added that they were prepared to face fines for breaching kit regulations but they would not afford to have players receive yellow cards or be forced to leave the field.
The statement also said the teams are “very frustrated with FIFA, and believe this is unprecedented,” before noting that they will show support “in other ways.” On Saturday, FIFA announced its own armband initiative, suggesting players wear different armbands for each match, featuring what critics consider milquetoast slogans such as “Football unites the world,” “Share the meal,” and “Bring the moves.” Whether these disgruntled teams will wear these alternative armbands remains to be seen, as England becomes the first European team to take the field in a match against Iran at 4 p.m. local time Monday.
Below, what to know about the One Love armband controversy.
When did the One Love armband campaign begin?
The One Love campaign was initiated by the Dutch Football Association at the start of the 2020 soccer season, in a bid to “express their support for unification of all people” and condemn all forms of discrimination. In September 2022, it was announced that nine other nations, including Norway, Sweden, and France, would adopt the campaign for various upcoming matches including the Qatar World Cup and next year’s UEFA Nations League.
Team captains agreed to wear the rainbow armband, which bears the words “OneLove” on it and features the number one inside a heart. Although it has no direct mention to any LGBTQ causes or discrimination, the rainbow flag is a globally-recognized symbol of LGBTQ rights.
In a 2020 statement, Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk said: “This is an important message which suits the game of football: on the field everybody is equal and this should be the case in every place in society. With the OneLove band we express this message.”
Why teams want to wear the armbands in Qatar
Same-sex relationships are criminalized in Qatar and members of the LGBTQ community have been arrested and mistreated by authorities as recently as September, according to Human Rights Watch. In light of this record, the armband was due to act as a form of silent protest not dissimilar to taking the knee as a symbol of anti-racist solidarity—which England has adopted since the Euro 2020 games and will continue to do in its Monday game against Iran.
England Manager Gareth Southgate confirmed that the Three Lions—as England’s soccer squad is known locally—will keep this tradition during the month-long tournament. “We’ve discussed taking the knee and we feel we should,” he said at a press conference on Sunday. “It is what we stand for as a team, and we have done for a long period of time.”
Before Monday, England Captain Harry Kane was adamant that he wanted to wear the armband. The England squad, which features a number of star players from ethnic and racial minority backgrounds, is often lauded for its socially and politically progressive messaging, including explicitly condemning racism. So it was no surprise when they initially refused to back down from wearing the armbands.
Qatar has received a wave of international backlash since it secured the bid to host the soccer tournament in 2010, becoming the first Middle Eastern and Muslim-majority nation to do so. The tiny Gulf nation has proved to be an unpopular choice for many soccer fans, because of its poor human rights record—and not just when it comes to the LGBT rights.
Why did these teams back down from wearing the armband?
Amid a number of rules and stipulations FIFA has on team uniforms, the use of political statements on team kits is prohibited. According to rule 4.3 of FIFA’s equipment regulations, “No item (of playing kit or other clothing or equipment or otherwise) may be worn or used in any controlled area if FIFA considers that it is dangerous, offensive or indecent, includes political, religious, or personal slogans, statements, or images, or otherwise does not comply in full with the laws of the game.”
On Saturday, Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, said during a press conference in Doha that, “We have clear regulations on armbands.” He added: “We have and engage in campaigns on different topics, campaigns which are universal. We need to find topics that everyone can adhere to. This is an important element for us.”
As such, FIFA warned that teams hoping to spread the One Love message would be met with an instantaneous yellow card at kick-off. This would increase chances of players being sent off during a match, which could affect their ultimate standing in the tournament.
England, the first team to play that had intended to wear the One Love armband, is among the favorites to win the 2022 World Cup, after losing to Italy in a penalty shootout during the 2020 Euro Cup.