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Norwegian midfielder Martin Ødegaard wears a OneLove armband during an international friendly match againt Ireland at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on November 17, 2022.  (Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

LGBTQ+ Rights Groups Denounce FIFA Ban on OneLove Armbands During World Cup in Qatar

"No country which abuses the human rights of its people in this way should have been awarded with the honor of hosting a major sporting tournament in the first place," said one advocacy group.

Brett Wilkins

Human rights defenders and sports fans worldwide condemned a decision by the world football governing body FIFA to ban any shows of support for LGBTQ+ rights by players during the World Cup that kicked off in Qatar on Sunday.

"LGBTQ+ people are criminalized in Qatar just for being themselves."

The Associated Press reports seven World Cup teams—Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Wales—said their captains would not wear rainbow-colored armbands supporting the OneLove anti-discrimination campaign after FIFA warned they would immediately be shown yellow cards, two of which result in a player's expulsion from that and the following match.

"By threatening sporting sanctions and stopping players from wearing #OneLove armbands, FIFA are brushing criticism of human rights abuses under the carpet," the U.K. LGBTQ+ advocacy group Stonewall tweeted in response to the decision.

"LGBTQ+ people are criminalized in Qatar just for being themselves," the group added. "No country which abuses the human rights of its people in this way should have been awarded with the honor of hosting a major sporting tournament in the first place."

The seven teams—which had planned on wearing the armbands as a sign of support for LGBTQ+ people in a country in which they are criminalized and face up to seven years in prison for engaging in same-sex relations—said they were prepared to pay fines, but FIFA's clarification indicating on-field penalties forced them to reverse course.

"As national federations, we can't put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions, including bookings," the seven national soccer federations said in a joint statement. "We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision, which we believe is unprecedented."

Separately, the Royal Dutch Football Association said: "Our number one priority at the World Cup is to win the games. Then you don't want the captain to start the match with a yellow card."

The Football Association of Wales expressed disappointment in FIFA's decision, stating that "we remain with the belief that football is for everyone and stand with our LGBTQ+ members of the Welsh football family. Football for everyone."

FIFA regulations state that no uniforms or other clothing or equipment may be worn or used if it is "dangerous, offensive, or indecent" or has "political, religious, or personal slogans."

However, Article 3 of the FIFA Statutes bans "discrimination of any kind against a country, private person, or groups of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics, or any other reason."

Qatar, a repressive monarchy ruled by the House of Al Thani for nearly two centuries, has faced criticism for its human rights record, including its treatment of women, LGBTQ+ people, political dissenters, and migrant workers—6,500 of whom have died in the country since it was awarded the World Cup in 2010, according to a Guardian analysis.

Mohammed bin Hammam, a prominent Qatari soccer official and former member of FIFA's executive committee, allegedly paid $5 million to bribe football officials to support Qatar's World Cup bid. An investigation by FIFA's ethics watchdog and Michael J. Garcia, a former U.S. federal prosecutor, found copious evidence of questionable behavior but no "smoking gun" proving vote-buying.

Referring to Saturday's deadly mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado in the United States, the British LGBTQ+ fan network Pride in Football lamented that "now was the perfect opportunity for people with a massive platform—that of the World Cup—to stand in solidarity with the community. But it's fallen apart."

"Actions speak louder than words," the group added, "and these actions suggest the risk of a yellow card is more important than the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Qatar."

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