FIFA has been accused by Kick It Out of “sinister abuse of power” in the OneLove bracelet row.
The captains of seven countries, including England and Wales, should have worn the rainbow-colored anti-discrimination bracelets during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a country where same-sex relationships are a criminal offence.
However, the plans were dropped when it emerged in the hours before England’s first final match against Iran on Monday that sports sanctions would be imposed.
Clearly a booking to the captain wearing the band would have only been the starting point of the penalties, with Harry Kane, Gareth Bale and the other five skippers also banned from wearing the pitch.
Germany protested FIFA’s stance by covering their mouths for a team photo before their match against Japan on Wednesday, to highlight how they felt silenced. Wales have said they will not protest before their game against Iran on Friday, and it is unclear what England will do if they face the United States on Friday night.
Sanjay Bhandari, the chairman of Kick It Out, responded to a tweet suggesting that OneLove’s captains faced ‘unlimited liability’ over the armbands, writing on Twitter: “What FIFA did goes beyond failing to comply with their values and a sinister abuse of power has been engineered into silence – hence the German gag protest.
“I think if you hang out with autocratic dictators long enough, you start to pick up on some of their habits.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino was awarded an Order of Friendship medal by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2019 and has been accused of bowing to the Qatari state’s sensitivities over the sale of alcohol in stadiums during the World Cup and in the armband row.
He also spoke in an extraordinary press conference last Saturday about how he had tried to bring women’s World Cup matches to North Korea.
The Football Association has rejected suggestions that chief executive Mark Bullingham skipped a meeting with FIFA in October where bracelets were discussed.
The meeting on October 12 was attended by members of the UEFA Working Group on Qatar, including members of the OneLove group.
But it was not a full working group meeting and was convened at short notice, with Bullingham committing to personally address 800 FA staff at a conference for the first time in two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The meeting was designed to discuss a series of unresolved issues, of which the bracelet was just one. The group also sought clarity on commitments regarding a migrant worker support center and compensation fund, as well as reassurances about the safety of LGBTQ+ fans in Qatar.
While the FA and other OneLove countries had not received a clear answer, they arrived in Qatar bracing themselves for off-field sanctions in the form of fines for wearing the armband.
It remained that way until Sunday, when rumors spread of sporting sanctions, something FIFA confirmed to the unions on Monday.
“The October 12 meeting was never a full meeting of the UEFA working group,” the FA said.
“It was a brief meeting with FIFA to try and resolve all outstanding issues, one of which was the armband. Three countries represented the group at the meeting and the issue of the armband was not resolved.”