“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 soccer associations said in a joint statement. Three of the teams — England, Wales and the Netherlands — were scheduled to play Monday.
“We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented,” the teams added, promising to show support for “inclusion” in other ways. “As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings.”
Qatar has come under scrutiny in the lead-up to the tournament over its approach to human rights, including concerns over the conditions of migrant workers and the conservative Persian Gulf state’s stance on LGBTQ people. Sex between men is prohibited in Qatar and punishable by up to seven years in prison, according to a recent U.S. State Department report.
The OneLove campaign was originally conceived by the Dutch soccer team, and at first 10 European teams signed up for it in September. They agreed that their captains would wear a rainbow armband to send a message against discrimination and promote inclusion.
The Dutch were the first to announce publicly that captain Virgil van Dijk would not wear the armband. “Hours before the first game, it has been made clear to us from FIFA (officially) that the captain will receive a yellow card if he wears the ‘OneLove’ captain’s armband,” the KNVB, the country’s football association, said in a statement. “We deeply regret that it was not possible to reach a reasonable solution together.
“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. That is why it is with a heavy heart that we as a UEFA working group, KNVB and as a team had to decide to abandon our plan.”
Penalizing team captains before the games begin would impose a competitive disadvantage from the outset, with a second yellow card during a match bringing ejection.
While the basis of any possible FIFA sanctions against players has not been made public, according to Article 4.3 of the FIFA equipment regulations, no items of clothing or equipment can be worn if they are considered “dangerous, offensive or indecent” or include “political, religious or personal slogans.”
“As captains, we may all be competing against each other on the pitch, but we stand together against all forms of discrimination,” England captain Harry Kane said in September. “Wearing the armband together on behalf of our teams will send a clear message when the world is watching.”
FIFA rejected the OneLove campaign and, according to the national soccer teams, threatened to sanction players wearing the armband. Instead, FIFA has proposed that national captains wear armbands from its separate “No Discrimination” campaign that it had planned to begin with the quarterfinals.
In a separate statement Monday, the global soccer organization said it had brought forward the beginning of its No Discrimination campaign to allow all 32 national captains to wear that armband throughout the entire tournament.
“FIFA is an inclusive organization that wants to put football to the benefit of society by supporting good and legitimate causes, but it has to be done within the framework of the competition regulations which are known to everyone,” the body said in a statement.
The Football Association of Wales expressed frustration and disappointment in a statement, but added, “We remain with the belief that football is for everyone and stand with our LGBTQ+ members of the Welsh football family.
“Football for everyone.”