GENEVA—FIFA came under pressure Wednesday from several European soccer federations who want their captains to wear an armband with a rainbow heart design during World Cup games in Qatar to campaign against discrimination.
France and Germany, the last two World Cup champions, were among eight of the 13 European soccer teams going to Qatar who joined the “OneLove” campaign, which started in the Netherlands. The Dutch team plays Qatar in Group A on November 29.
FIFA rules prohibit teams from bringing their own armband designs to the World Cup and insist they must use equipment provided by the governing body.
Armbands are the latest battleground for players to push political messages linked to the World Cup hosted in Qatar, where homosexual acts are illegal and the treatment of migrant workers building projects for the tournament has been a decade-long controversy.
“Wearing the armband together on behalf of our teams will send a clear message when the world is watching,” England captain Harry Kane said in a statement.
The Swiss soccer federation said it wanted captain Granit Xhaka to wear an armband on which “you can see a heart with diverse colors which represent the diversity of humanity.”
Soccer players have embraced their platform to make statements in recent years. Taking a knee on the field was routine before Premier League games for two seasons after the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a police officer in the United States.
FIFA supported taking a knee and now has to decide whether to back some of its most influential member federations in a gesture that could embarrass Qatar.
“A request to FIFA has also been submitted asking that permission be provided for the armbands to be worn throughout the FIFA World Cup,” the Welsh soccer federation said in a statement.
FIFA did not immediately comment on the request.
European soccer body UEFA said it “fully supports the OneLove campaign, which was initially developed by the (Dutch federation).”
The armbands will also be worn at UEFA-organized games in the Nations League this week, including by both captains when Belgium hosts Wales on Thursday.
UEFA previously let Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer wear a rainbow captain’s armband at European Championship games last year, including against tournament co-host Hungary where lawmakers passed anti-gay legislation during the tournament.
The campaign for armbands was launched one day after the Emir of Qatar spoke at the United Nations General Assembly in New York promising a World Cup without discrimination.
“The Qatari people will receive with open arms football fans from all walks of life,” Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said in a speech to other world leaders.
The eight European teams backing the “OneLove” campaign for human rights also included Belgium and Denmark. The five European qualifiers for the World Cup not taking part Wednesday were Croatia, Poland, Portugal, Serbia and Spain.
However, Poland captain Robert Lewandowski—a two-time FIFA world player of the year—said this week he would take an armband in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag to Qatar.
Poland refused to play Russia, the 2018 World Cup host, in a playoff match in March. Before the game, FIFA and European soccer body UEFA banned Russian teams from international competitions because the country invaded Ukraine.
The campaign for the armbands emerged while a panel of UEFA member federations has monitored progress in Qatar on labor law reforms and other human rights ahead of the tournament.
That panel includes the Norwegian soccer federation, whose president Lise Klaveness delivered a scathing criticism of the Qatari project at an annual FIFA meeting in March in Doha on the eve of the tournament draw.
England and Wales were among the federations Wednesday acknowledging progress made in Qatar since the wealthy emirate won the World Cup hosting vote in December 2010.
However, the English federation said players would meet with some migrant workers who will be invited to its training camp in Al Wakrah.
England also added to support already expressed in Germany this week for FIFA and World Cup organizers to compensate the families of construction workers who died or were injured after coming to Qatar to help build stadiums, metro lines and hotels.
Amnesty International has suggested FIFA should pay $440 million in reparations to equal the prize money being paid to the 32 teams in Qatar.
At a German federation event on Monday, an invited fan who is gay used the platform to urge the Qatari ambassador that his country should abolish laws against homosexuality. The ambassador, Abdulla bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Thani, complained that human rights issues were distracting from the tournament.
Image credits: AP