LONDON – Fifa and World Cup organisers came under pressure on Wednesday from a group of European football federations that said they planned to have their captains wear armbands with a rainbow heart design as part of an anti-discrimination campaign during international matches and at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
The group of European football federations, which includes World Cup contenders England, Germany and France, joined forces on Wednesday in announcing their intention to have their captains wear the armbands, which feature a so-called One Love design that is similar in design – but not identical – to the well-known flag that serves as a symbol of LGBTQ pride.
The Dutch football federation, which has played a leading role in the campaign, said that eight European teams that have qualified for Qatar would take part and that two others would wear the armbands in coming national team matches in a European competition, the Nations League. The group of national federations includes the teams of Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Wales, Sweden and Switzerland.
Sending a ‘clear message’
The announcement is the latest front in a rift between football governing bodies and nations competing in Qatar that have faced sustained pressure from fans, human rights groups and others to take a stand against the Gulf country’s laws against homosexuality and the treatment of the hundreds of thousands of foreign labourers who helped the tiny emirate prepare for the Middle East’s first World Cup.
The armbands have not yet been approved by football’s governing body, Fifa, which has strict rules on how teams can be dressed at the World Cup, and on the insertion of politics and social issues onto the field of play. The decision by the federations to apply public pressure highlights the fine line that competing teams – as well as Fifa and its sponsors – are trying to navigate in balancing the demands of their fans and human rights groups while not upsetting Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation and the tournament’s host.
“Wearing the armband together on behalf of our teams will send a clear message when the world is watching,” the England captain Harry Kane said in a statement.
The armbands’ design, while using rainbow colours, stops short of matching the more common Pride flag. Qatari officials have long said that all fans are welcome at the month-long tournament in November and December, but security officials there also have warned supporters not to travel with the rainbow flag for their own safety, and it remains unclear how same-sex couples will be treated when it comes to policing and accommodation.
For Fifa, the armbands are merely the latest lightning rod for a tournament that has stirred controversy and disquiet since Qatar was first awarded hosting rights in December 2010. Earlier this week, the Polish captain Robert Lewandowski, the reigning Fifa player of the year, accepted an armband in the colours of Ukraine’s flag from the Ukrainian football great Andriy Shevchenko. He said he would carry it with him to Qatar.