The captains of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands will not wear the OneLove anti-discrimination armband in their World Cup opening games after confirmation that their captains would be given yellow cards if they took part in the initiative.
The announcement came just before their World Cup campaigns were scheduled to start. The national federations said they were prepared to pay a fine for their captains to wear the OneLove armband, but once it became clear their captains would be sanctioned, they had to change plans.
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“FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play,” a joint statement from the nations 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 .
“We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented — we wrote to FIFA in September informing them of our wish to wear the ‘OneLove’ 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.”
In addition, sources told ESPN that FIFA has ordered the Belgium team to remove the word “love” from the collar of their away shirt.
FIFA announced before the start of the tournament that it would have seven different armbands available for each round of the competition, each with various social messaging slogans. But soon after the seven nations announced they would not wear the OneLove armband on Monday, FIFA announced it would make the “No Discrimination” armband available throughout the tournament, when it was previously set to be worn at the quarterfinal stage.
“Following discussions, FIFA can confirm its ‘No Discrimination’ campaign has been brought forward from the planned quarterfinals stage in order that all 32 captains will have the opportunity to wear this armband during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” the statement read.
“This is in line with Article 13.8.1 of the FIFA Equipment Regulations, which state: ‘For FIFA Final Competitions, the captain of each Team must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA.'”
The Dutch were the first to announce publicly that Virgil van Dijk would not wear the armband. The KNVB statement on the decision said: “Today, 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. 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.”
The KNVB added: “As previously announced, the KNVB would have paid a possible fine for wearing the ‘OneLove’ captain’s armband, but that FIFA wants to punish us on the field for this has never been seen. This goes against the spirit of our sport that connects millions of people. Together with the other countries involved, we will take a critical look at our relationship with FIFA in the coming period.”
France, who were initially part of the initiative, also will not be wearing the armband. French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet had said he would “rather” players didn’t wear the rainbow armbands, while captain Hugo Lloris reiterated the team’s position in a news conference on Monday after previously saying there was “too much pressure” on players to protest in Qatar.
“I want to say that FIFA organizes the competition and it sets a frame, rules,” Lloris said. “Our players are here to play football and represent our country on a sporting level.
“On that level, the first game is always extremely important, and as defending champions, the expectations are even higher for us.”
Speaking before the announcement was made, Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand said the decision to sanction players for wearing the armband carried a “controversial message.”
“Imagine going on the pitch with a clear yellow card to start with,” Hjulmand said. “That is not possible. We have to make sure that it’s not up to players to make that decision.
“This is not something invented for this occasion. It’s something we have done before. I can’t see the problem to be honest. For me, it’s also a big question mark.”
Just now: Security guard refusing to let me into the stadium for USA-Wales. “You have to change your shirt. It’s not allowed.” pic.twitter.com/TvSGThMYq8
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Global players’ union FIFPRO called the FIFA move “disappointing.”
“Players must have a right to express their support for human rights on and off the field of play and we will support any of them who will use their own platforms to do so,” the union said. “We maintain that a rainbow flag is not a political statement but an endorsement of equality and thus a universal human right.”
Nine nations, including Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, agreed in September to wear the armband as a symbol of diversity, inclusion and anti-discrimination amid concerns over World Cup host Qatar’s human rights record.
Both FIFA and UEFA do not usually allow teams to make political statements, but European football’s governing body gave dispensation for the armbands to be worn in their UEFA Nations League matches.
FIFA did not provide clarity on its stance and, just one day before the World Cup began, launched its own armbands for all captains to wear promoting social awareness. The nine nations, of which only seven are present at the World Cup, were ready to accept a fine for making the gesture, but there were suggestions each captain could receive a yellow card at kick-off in each match.
And on the day the European nations were preparing to start their World Cup campaigns, they made a unilateral decision not to wear the armband for fear of their captains being sanctioned
The day before England’s opening match against Iran, their captain, Harry Kane, said he planned to wear it.
“I think we’ve made it clear as a team, as a staff and an organization that we want to wear the armband,” Kane said on Sunday. “I know the FA are talking to FIFA at the moment, and I’m sure by game time tomorrow we’ll have the decision. I think we’ve made it clear we want to wear it.”
Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal and captain Van Dijk were asked about whether they would wear the armband in the news conference the day before their opener. Van Gaal, the Dutch manager, answered: “I am no longer going to speak about political issues, I’m speaking about this coming match, and I put a full stop on all these issues.
“After I invited the migrants to watch a practice session, I requested all our players to put a full stop on that and focus on the match against Senegal.”
Other nations had confirmed they were planning to wear the armband, with both Wales and Germany doing so at the weekend.
Information from Reuters and ESPN’s Julien Laurens contributed to this report.