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Rainbow Armbands Are Flash Point for Qatar World Cup


LONDON — FIFA and World Cup organizers got here under pressure on Wednesday from a bunch of European soccer federations who said they planned to have their captains wear armbands with a rainbow heart design as a part of an anti-discrimination campaign during international matches and on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The group of European soccer federations, which incorporates the World Cup contenders England, Germany and France, joined forces on Wednesday in announcing their intention to have their captains wear the armbands, which feature a so-called One Love design that is comparable in design — but not equivalent — to the well-known flag that serves as an emblem of LGBTQ pride.

The Dutch soccer federation, which has played a number one role within the campaign, said eight European teams which have qualified for Qatar would participate, and that two others would wear the armbands in coming national team matches in a European competition, the Nations League. The group of national federations includes the teams of Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Wales, Sweden and Switzerland.

The announcement is the most recent front in a rift between soccer governing bodies and nations competing in Qatar who’ve faced sustained pressure from fans, human rights groups and others to take a stand against the Gulf country’s laws against homosexuality and the treatment of the a whole bunch of hundreds of foreign laborers who helped the tiny emirate prepare for the Middle East’s first World Cup.

The armbands haven’t yet been approved by soccer’s governing body, FIFA, which has strict rules on how teams might be dressed on the World Cup, and on the insertion of politics and social issues onto the sector of play. The choice by the federations to use public pressure highlights the high-quality line that competing teams — in addition to FIFA and its sponsors — try to navigate in balancing the demands of their fans and human rights groups while not upsetting Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation and the tournament’s host.

“Wearing the armband together on behalf of our teams will send a transparent message when the world is watching,” the England captain Harry Kane said in an announcement.

The armbands’ design, while using rainbow colours, stops in need of matching the more common Pride flag. Qatari officials have long said that each one fans are welcome on the monthlong tournament in November and December, but security officials there even have warned supporters to not travel with the rainbow flag for their very own safety, and it stays unclear how same-sex couples can be treated in terms of policing and accommodations.

For FIFA, the armbands are merely the most recent lightning rod for a tournament that has stirred controversy and disquiet since Qatar was first awarded hosting rights in December 2010. Earlier this week, the Polish captain Robert Lewandowski, the reigning FIFA player of the 12 months, accepted an armband in the colours of Ukraine’s flag from the Ukrainian soccer great Andriy Shevchenko that he said he would carry with him to Qatar.

Poland was among the many European nations that said they might not play against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine in February. FIFA eventually banned Russia from playing international soccer, a choice that led to its elimination from the World Cup qualification playoffs.

FIFA managed to fend off an appeal of the ban from Russia by arguing that it couldn’t organize the World Cup if a lot of teams refused to play the country. The identical strength-in-numbers rationale can have been behind the choice by the group of Europeans nations to have their captains wear the rainbow armbands.

“Football is there for everybody and our sport must rise up for the people the world over who face discrimination and exclusion,” said Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who captains his national team. “I’m proud to be sending out this message with my colleagues from the opposite national teams. Each voice counts.”

England’s soccer federation also announced that it could be lobbying to strengthen migrant-worker rights in Qatar, and expressed its support for compensation to be paid for any injuries and deaths through the construction phase of the World Cup. That desire stopped in need of an effort from several human rights groups who’re urging FIFA to create a $440 million compensation fund for employees.

Felix Jakens, an official with Amnesty International in Britain, said English soccer officials should specifically push for a “fund for abused employees and the families of those that’ve died to make the World Cup occur.”

Human rights groups have claimed that greater than 6,000 employees have died in construction projects related to the World Cup. Qatari World Cup officials have put that number at three, limiting their responsibility to those that died specifically constructing stadiums for the event.

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