Dduring Monday’s World Cup matches, the upper arms of several team captains took on new meaning. In Monday’s match against Iran, England’s Harry Kane wore a bracelet that read “no discrimination”, in black and white – which, despite the outspoken message, meant that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people were more shoulder-shocked during this World Cup were treated.
When it was announced in September that eight competing countries would support the One Love campaign, with multi-colored hearts on the captains’ sleeves, the power of the gesture was in alliance. “Wearing the bracelet together on behalf of our teams will send a clear signal when the world is watching,” said Kane.
The six colors used for One Love are not those of the Pride rainbow, but that made sense in the context of Qatar. After all, the criminalization of same-sex love is not the only human rights issue in the host country. But even then, One Love never felt right – and its weaknesses were eventually exposed by FIFA’s bullying tactics and England’s risk-averse response.
Cracks began to appear in the coalition when France’s skipper, Hugo Lloris, said last week that “respect” for Qatar’s rules and culture meant he was unlikely to wear the bracelet. He also suggested that he was waiting for the final call from FIFA, who then stopped the remaining seven teams threatening to punish their skippers if they wore the campaign dress.
Kane instead wore an armband approved by world football’s governing body. Meanwhile, Virgil van Dijk, the captain of the Netherlands, wore a different design – but again, FIFA-approved and anodyne – when his team played against Senegal on Monday afternoon.
I run a network called Sports Media LGBT+ for those who work in sports media and are LGBTQ+ (we have over 50 in our core group) and the Monday morning ping of WhatsApp messages was a testament to the way hearts sank.
We are collectively annoyed that our community is seen as political. FIFA’s own statutes include sexual orientation in the non-discrimination, equality and neutrality clause, but it seems that visibility and a reference to love are still going too far. That’s why Sports Media LGBT+ is one of the supporters of the No Pride Without All campaign launched by Three Lions Pride, the Rainbow Wall and Pride in Football.
Members of these LGBTQ+ fan groups have not traveled to Qatar – they were not given adequate assurances about the safety of fans, while also wanting to show solidarity with their queer Qatari siblings.
They similarly feel deflated by One Love’s domination. Their statement read: “FIFA is guilty of destroying the fundamental human rights of freedom of speech and expression that each of us should have without a doubt.”
Of course, Kane could have worn the One Love bracelet anyway and taken the booking or whatever punishment Fifa intended to hand out – but amid so much uncertainty just hours before kick-off, the FA took better safe than sorry.
The players and staff of the national teams involved were put in an almost impossible position. Ultimately, FIFA’s failures throughout the affair – exemplified by the insensitive way its president, Gianni Infantino, referred to diversity in his address to the media on the eve of the tournament – have undermined the values it claims to share, and that are written in the non-discrimination clause of its articles of association.
FIFA seems to believe it is showing leadership by mandating the use of its own armbands. But with seven of the eight groups at this World Cup containing countries where homosexuality is still illegal, there simply isn’t a shared commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion.
One Love’s visibility could have at least sparked a specific conversation, and perhaps we’ll find that FIFA’s actions have made it even more of a talking point.
The only person to be seen wearing the armband in England against Iran was, commendably, BBC pundit Alex Scott, who recently wrote about her past relationship with former team-mate Kelly Smith in her autobiography.
She represented LGBTQ+ people from the sidelines. It is where our community will undoubtedly continue to be during this men’s World Cup.