A bid by European teams to promote inclusion during the World Cup collapsed on Monday, after the Netherlands, England and Wales said threats from Fifa had forced them to abandon plans to wear rainbow-themed captains’ armbands.
The captains of the three countries had said over the weekend that they would wear the One Love armbands in their matches on Monday to send a message against discrimination while playing in Qatar, a country where homosexuality is illegal.
But on Monday, the Dutch football association said it had been forced to change tack after football’s governing body made it clear that captains would receive yellow cards for wearing unapproved armbands. England and Wales also said they would not go through with the plan.
“We deeply regret that it was not possible to reach a reasonable solution together,” said KNVB, the governing body of Dutch football. “We stand for the One Love message and will continue to spread it, but our number one priority at the World Cup is to win the games.”
The statement also said: “Together with the other countries involved, we will take a critical look at our relationship with Fifa in the coming period.”
Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and Belgium are also part of the Dutch-led One Love campaign.
A joint statement by all the football associations involved followed shortly after the Dutch announcement: “As national federations we can’t let our players face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked our captains not to wear the armbands in Fifa World Cup games.”
They added: “We are very frustrated with Fifa, and believe this is unprecedented.”
The issue over whether European captains will be allowed to wear their preferred armbands has been brewing for months in the run-up to the tournament. Requests by football associations for permission from Fifa to wear One Love armbands were made months ago, but there has been no response.
Instead, football’s governing body announced its own campaign armbands on Saturday, the day before the tournament began. Carrying slogans such as “Football Unites the World”, and “Share the meal”, the UN-backed initiative was launched with a short video including messages from superstars Lionel Messi and Neymar.
Speaking on Sunday, England captain Harry Kane said: “We’ve made it clear as a team, the staff and an organisation that we want to wear the armband.”
But, with hours to go before the first European team takes the field, football associations were still seeking clarity from Fifa over whether wearing the armband could result in punishments on the pitch for players, such as a yellow card for captains at kick-off.
The Fifa rules state: “For Fifa Final Competitions, the captain of each team must wear the captain’s armband provided by Fifa.” Football associations had been expecting to pay a fine for breaching the rules, but are now concerned that players could face punishments on the pitch. Receiving a yellow card at kick-off would put players at heightened risk of being sent off during a match.
France were also part of the One Love campaign ahead of the tournament. However, French captain Hugo Lloris had already indicated he was unlikely to wear the armband, saying at a team press conference: “We need the agreement of Fifa.”
“When we are in France, when we welcome foreigners, we often want them to follow our rules, to respect our culture, and I will do the same when I go to Qatar, quite simply,” Lloris said. “I can agree or disagree with their ideas, but I have to show respect.”
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