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Wear the armband, England, and show that you stand for something

England have walked back from the one moral stance they were going to take at this morally-bankrupt World Cup

Miguel Delaney
Doha
Monday 21 November 2022 11:35 GMT
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In the final hours before England vs Iran, the Football Association and other federations were attempting to come up with some other gesture to replace the OneLove Armband over the course of the World Cup.

It’s a wonder what form that will take given this kind of time period. It took them months to come up with something as pathetically meek as the armband, and it was then rendered utterly powerless under the slightest pressure from Fifa.

The federations released a statement saying they can’t put the players in a situation where they are at risk of sanction - and particularly one that affects performance - but what is the purpose of a protest if there is no sacrifice, no risk? That is what it's supposed to be about.

Here, support of the LGBTQ+ groups who do not feel welcome by Qatar apparently isn't worth a booking.

One of the great shames is that it could have been worth so much more than it actually was.

A gesture that had been so superficial and insubstantial had suddenly developed this huge significance as a potential symbol of defiance. It has only resulted in a major defeat, and what is effectively a surrender.

If anyone thinks this is a lot to be making over something as small as an armband, they are right. This is really about the general silence of the game throughout all this. It makes it even worse that this was the players' only gesture throughout all of this; through months of negotiation and - crucially - awareness. They will still take the knee but does even that mean the same thing? It’s why, although you can completely understand the FA not wanting to risk bookings and how unfair it is that this is always on the players, they have had the chance to do much more for months. They put it off for so long and it’s been cut down so quickly.

No one can plead ignorance here. It cuts to a grander debate sparked by Hugo Lloris about what players should actually do.

A fundamental point remains.

Human rights groups have not demanded a boycott of Qatar 2022 because there is an awareness that it is unfair to put a societal burden on players over a lifetime opportunity, for decisions made way above their head. They shouldn't have that responsibility.

At the same time, they are benefitting from attending this morally bankrupt World Cup. They also have significant leverage.

The blunt reality is that famous players speaking would make Qatar feel huge pressure, particularly as regards compensation to workers.

It is why they have a responsibility to use that voice. Too few of them have. Now, seven squads have almost been silenced.

Fifa should not escape criticism here, of course, but what did we expect given Gianni Infantino's opening press conference? Their stance on this is pathetic and contradictory, especially given the president's own acutely political words about the west and all the rest of it. There's also the fact it took them weeks to even respond to federation questions about the armband, and they only did so on the morning of the game.

It almost became a game of chicken, dominated by moral cowardice, as if they were daring the federations to stand down. The seven squads involved had initially thought they would just get a fine. The fair wonder was “why wouldn’t Fifa go further”. They felt the situation changed, however, when Fifa expressly said there would be sporting sanctions. The federations take that to mean a booking, and something that would consequently “affect performance”. It is almost bullying from the governing body.

Fifa basically went for where it hurt - but not hurt Qatar, apparently. What values do they actually stand for? Who is really running this tournament?

They had more leverage than anyone on Qatar and haven't actually used any of it. Human rights groups openly talk about a "lost opportunity" for reform now. Fifa have instead scolded critics.

Now, in a response to this armband debacle, Fifa have said they are bringing forward their 'No Discrimination' campaign from the quarter-finals so players can wear those armbands instead.

It's of no worth. No one is criticised. No one is pressured. It's a bland, empty corporate gesture that is a typical case of a game wanting to be seen to do the right thing but never actually fulfilling any of it.

The possibility of a surprise shouldn't be completely discounted, of course.

Maybe the federations will come up with a better gesture. Maybe some players will go rogue and wear the armband. This situation almost demands more.

That would be a story. That would be admirable, especially given the circumstances. It would be defiance and using the game for good.

The sad part is that there's no surprise about this story as it currently stands. It's just in-keeping with the response to this World Cup. Empty gestures and, worse, an empty moral core.

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