Who will stand against FIFA?

FIFA once said “the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 will be a celebration of unity and diversity”, but looking into the current situation makes it hard to agree. Seven nations have been threatened to face sporting sanctions if they wear rainbow colored captains armbands with the text “One Love” as a way of supporting inclusion in football, and so far the threats have been a success. So far, no captain has been seen wearing the “One Love” armband. Does this mean that the teams and players are weak, not daring to stand up for equality? Or should one separate sports and politics? Let’s dive into the World Cup in Quatar a bit more. 

In September this year, the seven European nations informed FIFA about their intentions to wear the “One Love” captains armband as a way of supporting inclusion in football. The teams launched the initiative in response to the treatment of LGBTQ communities in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal. And they never heard back from FIFA – until shortly before the first game. It was announced that any captain that decided to wear the armband was risking sporting sanctions such as a yellow card. Because of this, the teams took a step back and announced a joint message on social media in which England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland expressed their frustration regarding the decision.

This year’s World Cup is held under special circumstances. For example, the host country has been accused of bribing FIFA Officials. And Qatar’s strict laws have led to several adaptations being made during the event. One is the imposition of alcohol zones placed far from the arenas (the only legal place for alcohol distribution during the World Cup). A lot of critique has been directed to these reinforcements. 

But one of the biggest discussions so far is probably the prohibition of wearing the “One love” armband.  As said before, the initiative was launched in response to the treatment of LGBTQ communities in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal. The ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has insisted that everyone is welcome at the World Cup, including gay soccer fans – but they want people to respect their culture. Another comment regarding the topic was made by one the ambassadors of the World Cup in Qatar, calling homsexuality “damage in the mind” during an interview a couple weeks ago according to CBS news. 

The fact that the World Cup in Qatar means a ban on alcohol sales may be one thing – a way of “respecting the culture” that may be defensible. But when players have to choose between respecting a country’s culture and defending human rights, it is a different matter.  A tweet that got shared several times preached to the players and teams to dare to face the consequences of wearing the armband, saying that “Protest isn’t protest if it’s without risk. You either really want to make a stand for people who need it, or you don’t. Cowards.” 

Germany’s Minister of the Interior, One of many who stand up for the armband when the players weren’t allowed. 

During SVT:s World Cup broadcast, the guest panel has been harsh on FIFA’S way of acting. The Swedish football player Albin Ekdal said that maybe the football associations need to come together and “fight fire with fire” to win against FIFA.

But what if the teams decide not to put their players at risk? Should the players then decide to do something themselves? Should they put the armbands on and face FIFA? Maybe. Before their first game, the Dutch team said that “”We stand for the ‘OneLove’ message and will continue to spread it, but our No. 1 priority at the World Cup is to win the games. You don’t want the captain to start the match with a yellow card”. And as a former competitor myself (although it was in horse jumping), I can slightly understand the frustration of having the game affected by factors not related to the actual game. But I also suspect that this world cup won’t be remembered mostly for its sports, but rather for its politics. And one might say that politics and sports should be separated, but both Qatar and FIFA are already deep into this game. Several people, such as reporters and commentators have made their statements. Maybe it’s time for the clubs and players to step into that game too. After all, greater risks than yellow cards have been at stake before in the fight for equality.

A picture with FIFA staff waving a flag outside the headquarters. The following text says that “the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ will be a celebration of unity and diversity – a joining of people from all walks of life – regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression – everybody will be welcome”.

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