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JUST IN: FIFA have let down Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk with demoralising U-turn

FIFA decision to impose sporting sanctions on anyone wearing the ‘OneLove’ armband has put Virgil van Dijk and England in difficult position.


Clearly, FIFA president Gianni Infantino was feeling a bit less gay when he woke up this morning.


What else are we to think after the governing body effectively pressurised England and six other competing nations at the World Cup into not wearing an armband showing their backing for the OneLove initiative?


After all, it was only on Friday that Infantino proudly announced – among a whole host of other things – that “today I feel gay” as part of a 57-minute speech broadly defending the choice of Qatar as finals hosts that has already gone down as one of the most ill-judged press conferences in football history.


Actually, scrap that. It was one of the most ill-judged press conferences in history full stop, any well meaning lost in a sea of cringe-inducingly crass assertions.


England skipper Harry Kane – along with Holland counterpart Virgil van Dijk and the captains of Wales, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland – had confirmed he would wear the OneLove armband, which “promotes inclusion and sends a message against discrimination of any kind”.


Now the FAs of those countries have asked their captains not to wear the armbands after FIFA threatened to impose a sporting sanction of a booking to any player who took to the field wearing one. This is despite breaches of kit regulations usually result in a fine, which the respective national FAs were prepared to pay.


“Today we feel angry,” said a statement from the Football Supporters’ Association on Monday morning. “Today we feel betrayed. Today we feel contempt for an organisation that has shown its true values by giving the yellow card to players and the red card to tolerance.”


Politics, as ever, is at play here. Male homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, with World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman declaring on German television earlier this month that it was “damage in the mind”. For their part, World Cup organisers in Qatar have been keen to state everyone is welcome to attend the tournament. The message evidently isn’t universal, though.


OneLove, while promoting inclusion for all, has been closely linked to the LGBTQ+ community in particular. And that has seemingly sat uneasily with the Qatari government and, by association, FIFA. Indeed, the governing body have announced their all-encompassing No Discrimination campaign has been brought forward from the quarter-finals stage to cover the whole of the competition – which in turn begs the question of why it wasn’t in place from the start. Are the group stages not important enough? Or is there a fear some countries won’t be so willing to be involved?


Where FIFA have really let down the teams and players in question is by imposing the threat of sporting sanctions mere hours before England, Wales and Holland were due to play. The governing body were informed back in September of what the seven countries had planned. FIFA failed to respond.


Given the late U-turn on alcohol being available in and around stadiums, there is now a very real suggestion FIFA are bowing to the demands of the Qatari government which had previously been open to compromise on the questionable human rights record that raised fears over the competition being held in the country in the first place. Booze Friday. Armbands Monday. What will it be tomorrow?



The likes of England, Kane and Van Dijk will now attract criticism from some quarters for backtracking. This would be wholly unfair as they have been put into an unenviable positive by the shifting sands at FIFA. They at least have put their head above the parapet, and there is an argument the furore surrounding the OneLove armband has drawn more attention to the matter than perhaps if the national team captains had just worn them unchallenged. But to even suggest this was in any way part of a grand masterplan from FIFA is preposterous.


The reality is FIFA have at the last moment changed their rules in a successful attempt to prevent their World Cup being used as a platform to positively promote inclusivity. Progressiveness will be punished, it seems.


There is some mitigation for Infantino, who inherited the decision for the World Cup to be held in Qatar and, to some extent, has been left with an almost impossible balancing act between different cultures. He went about it completely the wrong way on Friday, that’s for sure.


But whoever ultimately signed off on this latest hugely demoralising decision should be feeling a little less like a human being today.


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