FIFA’s threat of on-field punishment for players forced World Cup teams to back down Monday and abandon a plan for their captains to wear armbands that were seen as a rebuke to host nation Qatar’s human rights record.
Just hours before the first players wearing the armbands in support of the “One Love” campaign were set to take the field, FIFA warned they would be immediately be shown yellow cards — changing the calculus for the seven European teams, which may have expected to merely be fined. The displays are a violation of FIFA rules.
The standoff was just the latest dispute that threatened to overshadow the play. Since being awarded the World Cup hosting rights in 2010, conservative Muslim Qatar has faced criticism of its treatment of low-paid migrant workers as well as its criminalization of homosexuality.
The decision came three days after beer sales at stadiums were suddenly banned under pressure from the Qatari government and two days after FIFA president Gianni Infantino delivered an extraordinary tirade defending the host nation’s human rights record.
The captains of seven European nations had vowed to wear armbands carrying the heart-shaped multi-colored logo of the “One Love” campaign, which promotes inclusion and diversity in soccer and society. That set up the prospect of viewers worldwide seeing a symbol of disapproval with the host country and defiance of FIFA on the arms of England’s Harry Kane, the Netherlands’ Virgil van Dijk and Wales’ Gareth Bale on Monday.
But in the end, the teams said they couldn’t sacrifice success on the field. A yellow card is a warning, but two yellows would see a player sent off the field for the rest of the game and banned from the next — a sanction that is intensified in the World Cup format, where teams play just three games before the elimination rounds begin.
“As national federations we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions, including bookings,” the seven soccer federations said in a joint statement.
The captains of Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark had also pledged to wear the armbands in the coming days.
“Our number one priority at the World Cup is to win the games,” the Dutch soccer federation said in a separate statement. “Then you don’t want the captain to start the match with a yellow card.”
England’s Football Supporters Association said it felt betrayed by FIFA.
“Today we feel contempt for an organization that has shown its true values by giving the yellow card to players and the red card to tolerance,” the FSA said. (VOA)