The captains of several European teams will not wear “OneLove” armbands at the World Cup in Qatar due to the danger of receiving yellow cards.
England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Wales were set to participate in the “OneLove” campaign to promote inclusion and oppose discrimination.
But those countries’ associations said in a statement on Monday that the armband – which features a striped heart in different colors to represent all heritages, backgrounds, genders and sexual identities – would not be worn in Qatar.
“FIFA [football’s global governing body] has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play,” the joint statement read.
“As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games.”
“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play,” the statement added.
The decision not to showcase the armband in Qatar comes hours before England’s opening game against Iran, while Wales faces the US and the Netherlands plays Senegal later on Monday.
The countries said they were “frustrated” by what they described as FIFA’s “unprecedented” decision to sanction the captains should they wear the armband.
“We wrote to FIFA in September informing them of our wish to wear the One Love armband to actively support inclusion in football, and had no response. Our players and coaches are disappointed – they are strong supporters of inclusion and will show support in other ways,” the statement continued.
France has been part of the season-long campaign but last week captain Hugo Lloris told reporters that he would “respect” the local culture during the tournament.
The Dutch football association, meanwhile, said on Monday that it was “deeply disappointed” that captain Virgil van Dijk would get a yellow card if he were to wear the armband on the pitch.
In the buildup to the World Cup, Qatar – where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison – has come under criticism for its stance on LGBTQ rights.
A report from Human Rights Watch, published last month, documented cases as recently as September of Qatari security forces arbitrarily arresting LGBT people and subjecting them to “ill-treatment in detention.”
However, the country has insisted that “everyone is welcome” at the tournament, adding in a statement to CNN this month that “Our track record has shown that we have warmly welcomed all people regardless of background.”
A statement sent to CNN last week on behalf of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) which, since its formation in 2011, has been responsible for overseeing the infrastructure projects and planning for the World Cup, said it was committed to “an inclusive and discriminatory-free” World Cup, pointing to the fact that the country had, it said, hosted hundreds of international and regional sporting events since being awarded the World Cup in 2010.
Around the same time countries announced their captains would not wear the armband in Qatar, FIFA brought forward its own “No Discrimination” campaign and said all 32 captains would have the opportunity to wear an armband linked to the campaign.
“I have been speaking about this subject with the country’s [Qatar] highest leadership,” said FIFA president Gianni Infantino in a press conference Saturday.
“They have confirmed, and I can confirm, that everyone is welcome. If anyone says the opposite, it’s not the opinion of the country and it’s certainly not the opinion of FIFA.”
But FIFA’s decision to sanction players for wearing the “OneLove” armband has nevertheless drawn anger, with the Football Supporters’ Association, the national representative body for football supporters in England and Wales, saying it “feels betrayed.”
“Since 2010 we have been raising questions about the suitability of Qatar as a World Cup host,” a statement from the FSA said.
“Everyone could see this coming and it’s astonishing that, on the morning of England’s World Cup opener, FIFA are censoring players … who wish to share a positive message.”