Football

England ‘blackmailed’ by FIFA into dropping OneLove armband at Qatar World Cup

England and other teams planning to wear the ‘OneLove’ armbands to make a statement against discrimination during the World Cup in Qatar were faced with ‘extreme blackmail’ of ‘massive sanctions’, the German Football Association (DFB) claimed today.

The federations of England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark had said on Monday they had been put under pressure by FIFA, who had threatened to issue yellow cards to any player wearing the multi-coloured armband.

The DFB’s media director Steffen Simon told German Deutschlandfunk radio that England, who had been the first team to be expected to wear it on Monday in their game against Iran, had been threatened with multiple sporting sanctions to prevent them from making the gesture in support of LGBT+ rights.

‘The tournament director went to the English team and talked about multiple rule violations and threatened with massive sporting sanctions without specifying what these would be,’ Simon said.

Homosexuality is illegal in the Gulf state and punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Competing nations previously planning to wear a 'OneLove' armband at the World Cup were 'blackmailed' into not doing so, it has been claimed

Competing nations previously planning to wear a ‘OneLove’ armband at the World Cup were ‘blackmailed’ into not doing so, it has been claimed

BBC Presenter and former footballer Alex Scott is pictured wearing OneLove armband

BBC Presenter and former footballer Alex Scott is pictured wearing OneLove armband

Simon, who did not specify if he was referring to local organisers or FIFA in his reference to the tournament director, said the other six nations then decided to ‘show solidarity’ and not wear it.

‘We lost the armband and it is very painful but we are the same people as before with the same values. We are not impostors who claim they have values and then betray them,’ he said.

Gareth Southgate insists England’s focus is on the football amid growing row over Qatar’s authoritarian crackdown on pro-LGBT fans 

Gareth Southgate today tried to move on from the rainbow armband row and ‘focus on the football’ as Qatar’s conservative regime clamped down on pro-LGBT football fans with rainbow bucket hats, T-shirts and flags.

England’s manager said the failure to secure FIFA approval for Harry Kane to wear the ‘OneLove’ captain’s armband prior to the match against Iran yesterday had been a concern and there are ‘lessons to be learned’ from the controversy.

But he added: ‘I didn’t want anything distracting the players. There’s been a huge amount of talk around us, which is understandable. If we can help raise awareness of other issues then we want to do that and we will always try to do that, but of course we’re here to try and take our supporters on a great journey again.’

He told talkSPORT’s World Cup daily podcast: ‘I was a bit concerned that approval hadn’t been given and I think there are lessons to be learned from that, if I’m honest. But we had to focus on the football’.

The farcical row over Harry Kane and other captains facing a ban from the pitch for wearing a rainbow armband has spilled over to the stadiums of Doha.

Last night former Wales captain Laura McAllister was among female football fans who were ‘told to take off their rainbow bucket hats’ at the Qatari stadium ahead of the Dragons’ first match. 

Men, however, were allowed to keep them on.

The Football Association of Wales (FAW) is delivering evidence to FIFA during crisis talks later today.

‘We were in an extreme situation, in an extreme blackmail and we thought we had to take that decision without wanting to do so.’

DFB president Bernd Neuendorf called FIFA’s stance ‘an unprecedented event in World Cup history’ and ‘a show of force’. 

The English team did not want to comment on this matter. FIFA and local organisers did not respond to Reuters requests for a comment.

The reaction in Germany to the DFB’s U-turn has been one of scathing criticism, with supermarket chain REWE dropping its deal with the DFB.

The federation’s reputation has suffered in recent years with four previous presidents resigning amid corruption allegations and other scandals, or tarnished by them.

‘I can understand the disappointment. We had the choice between the plague and cholera,’ Simon said.

Now the German FA is considering taking legal action against FIFA to end its ban on wearing the armbands during the World Cup.

The DFB is planning to make a legal motion to the International Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) over FIFA’s ban, which has only added the wider criticism of its decision to award Qatar rights to host football’s largest international spectacle.

‘FIFA has banned us from showing diversity and human rights,’ a DFB spokesperson told Welt. 

The DFB will be hoping that legal action will overturn FIFA’s decision to ban the armband in time to allow captain Manuel Neuer to wear it when the German national team faces off against Spain on Sunday – without him receiving a yellow card.

It is unlikely that the ban will be overturned before Germany faces off against Japan in their first match on Wednesday.

While the European nations decided to drop the armbands, the national team of Iran declined to sing their anthem before their opening World Cup match on Monday in a sign of support for mass protests back home and a violent state crackdown on the unrest.

‘We have a lot of respect to what the Iran team did yesterday,’ Simon said. ‘We feel with the Iranian women. Yes, we don’t have the symbol anymore but we still stand by the values associated with this symbol.

‘The DFB is in a fundamental opposition within FIFA,’ he concluded.

An England fan wearing a rainbow shirt sits in the stands before the game against Iran yesterday

An England fan wearing a rainbow shirt sits in the stands before the game against Iran yesterday 

Former Wales captain Laura McAllister was among female football fans who were 'told to take off their rainbow bucket hats' at the Qatari stadium ahead of the Dragons' first match with the US last night

Former Wales captain Laura McAllister was among female football fans who were ‘told to take off their rainbow bucket hats’ at the Qatari stadium ahead of the Dragons’ first match with the US last night

England midfielder Jack Grealish, who scored in England’s opening game of the campaign against Iran yesterday, hit out at the decision to ban the armbands.

He told ITV Sport: ‘Obviously we wanted to wear it. I think it’s a bit stupid why we couldn’t. Harry himself wanted to wear it, we all wanted Harry to wear it but sometimes in life and in football things are out of your control and there’s not much you can do about it.

‘I’ll be honest with you, I actually haven’t been in no meetings or anything about it. But from my point of view and everybody else’s in there, we all wanted Harry to wear it but I read before that he might get booked so there’s stuff out of your control.

‘But from me and all the lads we wanted Harry to wear it. We feel strongly about it, we’re with them [LGBT+ fans], we wish they were here with us. All I can say is we wanted to wear it, we feel the same way they do.’

US sports journalist Grant Wahl (pictured) was initially refused entry to a World Cup match in Doha, Qatar and had security guards 'aggressively demand' he remove his rainbow shirt. He was told it was for his own safet

US sports journalist Grant Wahl (pictured) was initially refused entry to a World Cup match in Doha, Qatar and had security guards ‘aggressively demand’ he remove his rainbow shirt. He was told it was for his own safet

Asked after the game, Tottenham striker and England captain Kane also insisted he was disappointed by the decision.

He said: ‘Yeah, I think we’re disappointed.  I turned up to the stadium with the armband that I did wear and I was told I had to wear that.’

The allegations of blackmail come as FIFA, despite implementing the ban on OneLove armbands, ‘reminded’ World Cup organisers Qatar about its policy of allowing items displaying the rainbow symbol into stadiums. 

There were reports tournament staff had been stripping fans of bucket hats, T-shirts and flags bearing the pro-LGBT emblem. 

Meetings have taken place with Qatar’s Supreme Committee – which is in charge of the tournament – where football’s international governing ‘made clear its stance’ that rainbow items should not be taken from fans, the i reported. 

Incidents that had been reported to FIFA from Monday have been addressed, i was told, and talks remain ongoing.

Last night former Wales captain Laura McAllister was among female football fans who were ‘told to take off their rainbow bucket hats’ at the Qatari stadium ahead of the Dragons’ first match. Men, however, were allowed to keep them on.

US football reporter Grant Wahl was stopped by security at the same match and ordered to take off his rainbow T-shirt. 

He refused and the Qatari officials questioned him before they eventually backed down. 

Today, Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen told the media he is ‘afraid’ to talk about human rights amid the crackdown on OneLove armbands in Qatar. 

‘I’m afraid if I say something about this I might not be able to play tomorrow,’ the defender said on Tuesday.

‘It’s an experience I’ve never felt in football before. I feel controlled. I’m afraid to even say something about this.

‘We’re just saying normal things about racism and discrimination and if you can’t even say things about it, that says it all.

‘I want to appear on the pitch tomorrow, so I’ll leave it at that.’

FIFA has also banned Belgium from wearing a rainbow-tinged second kit with the word ‘Love’ on the collar.

BBC pundit Alex Scott wore rainbow armband for England game on live TV and declares: Boycotting Qatar World Cup is the ‘easy option’

England may have backed down but BBC presenter Alex Scott defied Fifa’s ban on the rainbow armband as she broadcast from pitchside yesterday.

It was decided at the eleventh hour that England captain Harry Kane would no longer wear the anti-discrimination and LGBT rights symbol against Iran following pressure from football’s governing body.

But BBC pundit Miss Scott took the opportunity to wear the OneLove armband pitchside yesterday at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha during the build up to the England game.

Miss Scott, a former England international with 140 caps, has been a vocal critic of Qatar’s treatment of LGBT people and the country’s human rights record.

‘And once again we reference Infantino from what he said: you are not gay, you will never understand travelling to a country where you are fearing for your life just because of your preference of who you choose to love,’ she said during the coverage of the opening game of the tournament on Sunday.

‘To keep saying that football is for everyone, that’s what he keeps feeding us with, but we sit here and it’s not [for everyone] because people have not been able to travel to watch their team and support their team out of fear.’

She insisted it would have been easy to boycott the tournament and that she went to the World Cup in Qatar because she wants to have the ‘harder conversations’.

Miss Scott said: ‘Actually I’ve had conversations saying, ‘I should be staying at home, I should be boycotting’ and I thought long and hard about it. I think for me personally that would have been the easy option to do just that.

‘I’m here because I love my job and, when I think about it, sitting here and having the harder conversations: we’re talking about the migrant workers, LGBTQ+ community, we’re talking about women’s rights.

‘You think about four years ago, I was the first female pundit for the BBC at a World Cup. You think how far we’ve moved in four years. Let’s hope, in the next four years, we’re never having to have these conversations again.’

Former England captain Rio Ferdinand hit out at the decision of teams to not wear the rainbow armband accusing the countries of ‘folding like a pack of cards’ following a bit of pressure.

‘I know for a fact there are gay players at the World Cup’: Scotland’s only openly gay footballer Zander Murray calls ban on OneLove armbands a ‘direct attack’ on LGBTQ+ community

Scotland’s first openly gay footballer has slammed FIFA’s crackdown on OneLove armbands as a ‘direct attack’ on the LGBTQ+ community.

Zander Murray voiced his disappointment with the governing body’s ‘sanctions’ and insisted that ‘you really can’t attack the players here’ after the threat of a yellow card proved too much of a risk for the FA.

‘If you get a yellow card, a couple of games and that’s you banned,’ he told Good Morning Britain today. 

The sports star, 31, also expressed his worry for LGBTQ+ individuals in Qatar – where the World Cup is currently taking place. 

The sports star (pictured in September) also expressed his worry for LGBTQ+ individuals in Qatar - where the World Cup is currently taking place

The sports star (pictured in September) also expressed his worry for LGBTQ+ individuals in Qatar – where the World Cup is currently taking place

Zander Murray (pictured) voiced his disappointment with the governing body's 'sanctions' and insisted that 'you really can't attack the players here'

Zander Murray (pictured) voiced his disappointment with the governing body’s ‘sanctions’ and insisted that ‘you really can’t attack the players here’

‘There will be gay players in the World Cup…in fact, I know for a fact there is,’ he added. ‘Them having to hide their identity, hide who they truly are…hurts me to the core.’

The striker for Gala Fairydean Rovers also condemned earlier comments from a Qatar World Cup ambassador, who this month told German television broadcaster ZDF that homosexuality is ‘damage in the mind’, branding them ‘disgraceful’.

‘I couldn’t believe it when I first heard it,’ Zander admitted. ‘I just automatically thought of…imagine being an LGBTQ+ Qatari, being in Qatar, hearing that message. Being a young footballer hearing that message. I mean, it would break your heart.’

‘You see from other fans wearing rainbow hats…and they’re not allowed into stadiums, it’s just baffling,’ he added. 

The footballer also spoke to Susanna Reid and Richard Madeley (pictured) about his 'difficult journey' to coming out earlier this year

The footballer also spoke to Susanna Reid and Richard Madeley (pictured) about his ‘difficult journey’ to coming out earlier this year

Zander explained that he also wanted to help enact change and be a 'pillar of this really, really strong community' which could support current players

Zander explained that he also wanted to help enact change and be a ‘pillar of this really, really strong community’ which could support current players

The footballer also spoke candidly about his ‘difficult journey’ to coming out earlier this year, citing fellow footballers Jake Daniels and Josh Cavallo as inspirations – and revealed he now feels ‘incredible’.

He told Susanna Reid and Richard Madeley: ‘A big reason of why I wanted to do it was to share my message and try to inspire younger generations.’

Zander explained that he also wanted to help enact change and be a ‘pillar of this really, really strong community’ which could support current players.

‘I know how difficult it is,’ he added.

The striker for Gala Fairydean Rovers (pictured in September) also condemned earlier comments from a Qatar World Cup ambassador

The striker for Gala Fairydean Rovers (pictured in September) also condemned earlier comments from a Qatar World Cup ambassador

Zander listed fear of backlash and ‘internalised homophobia’ as reasons he didn’t come out earlier, admitting he would have done so ‘years earlier’ if he wasn’t a footballer. 

‘Certainly from the UK…that’s all been in my head,’ he revealed. ‘There’s not been much  trolls, if you like.

‘But within that, you ultimately need to work on yourself, to truly accept yourself, to deal with these horrible insults and slurs, which takes a bit of time.’

It comes as, earlier the FA’s decision to ask Harry Kane not to wear the ‘OneLove’ rainbow armband for England’s World Cup opener was branded spineless.

The armband is a show of solidarity for the LGBT+ community and the team captain has said he wanted to wear it at kick-off. Homosexuality is still illegal in Qatar.

It comes as, earlier the FA's decision to ask Harry Kane (pictured yesterday) not to wear the 'OneLove' rainbow armband for England's World Cup opener was branded spineless

It comes as, earlier the FA’s decision to ask Harry Kane (pictured yesterday) not to wear the ‘OneLove’ rainbow armband for England’s World Cup opener was branded spineless

But FIFA has strict rules about apparel that can be worn by players and the armband is not allowed under the code. 

It meant Harry could have faced an immediate booking yesterday if he walked out wearing the ‘OneLove’ band.

If he wore it again in their second match, the captain could have been slapped with another yellow, automatically banning him from the third game.

In a statement the Football Association said: ‘We have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armband in FIFA World Cup games.

‘We cannot put our players in a situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.’

Minutes after the announcement was made ‘spineless’ began trending on Twitter. One fan said: ‘The FA should not buckle under the pressure.’

Another said:  ‘Predictably it’s the spineless FA that have withered at the fist sign of resistance.’


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