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Footballers face yellow cards – but the LGBT community risks a much graver threat


4 min read

The English and Welsh football teams, as well as seven other nations, took the decision to wear the OneLove armband during their World Cup games in Qatar to promote the positive message of diversity and inclusion in the game in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

The decision taken by Fifa to impose sporting sanctions on those who wear the armband is disappointing and unacceptable.

This is in the year we saw Blackpool forward Jake Daniels become the United Kingdom's first male professional footballer to come out publicly as gay since Justin Fashanu, and Luke Ayling became the first current footballer to ever attend a pride event. The Rainbow Laces campaign has also done a brilliant job at combatting homophobia within the sport in the UK, which remains an issue on the terraces.

This World Cup cannot be for all when [Fifa] is actively bullying teams from making a gesture of solidarity to the LGBT community

The OneLove armband was a small gesture which aimed to continue these efforts to promote diversity and inclusion on the world stage, whilst speaking out on Qatari human rights abuses.

Fifa have had since September to come up with a response to players’ commitment to the OneLove armband and have now taken the decision to impose a sporting sanction on those that wear it, potentially a yellow card.

The relevant FAs had already accepted they would absorb any Fifa fine, but a sporting sanction is another matter for players entirely. Being on a yellow card puts a player in a precarious position putting themselves and their team at a disadvantage. For many players, playing at a World Cup is their lifelong dream, and it is understandable that they do not want to end this opportunity early through suspension or putting their team a man down – which may cost them the game. Fifa knew this, which is why they decided to impose a sporting sanction as opposed to an alternative punishment.

The Fifa president used his opening speech to speak of inclusivity and how the World Cup is for everyone. This World Cup cannot be for all when the organisation he presides over is actively bullying teams from making a small gesture of solidarity to the LGBT community. Fifa is actively seeking to censor European FAs efforts to tackle discrimination, even though Fifa claim to stand for this themselves, as well as attacking the basic human rights to freedom of speech and of expression that every single one of us should have without question.

What we are talking about here are people’s basic human rights. Players are having their right to freedom of speech being stripped from them, but this is nothing compared to the human rights abuses committed against the LGBT community in Qatar. It is important to remember this. Players are being threatened with yellow cards, whilst LGBT Qataris face a much graver threat.

Fifa’s decision to impose sporting sanctions and stop players from wearing the OneLove armbands is effectively an attempt to sweep criticism of human rights abuses under the carpet. We have to ask serious questions as to how Fifa awarded the World Cup to a country where LGBT people are criminalised for just being themselves, which is in direct contradiction to what the sport should stand for. Never again should a World Cup be awarded on the basis of money and infrastructure alone. No country which falls short on LGBT+ rights, women's rights, workers' rights or any other universal human right should be awarded the honour of hosting a World Cup.

I have tried to raise these concerns with the Qataris and to encourage improvements, but while some progress has been made on employment issues none has been made on LGBT rights.

People of any faith, of any background, of any sexuality and of any gender should be able to enjoy and participate in any sport. These are the principles football and Fifa should stand for, and anyone who does not agree with them should not seek to host a tournament which stands for values opposed to their own.

As a gay man, I couldn’t go to the World Cup and enjoy watching the football while gay Qataris are being discriminated against and persecuted in their own country.


Clive Betts, Labour MP for Sheffield South East.

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