After FIFA threatened yellow cards and possible ejections for players who planned to participate in it, the “OneLove” campaign planned in Qatar evaporated faster than Argentina’s dreams of winning the World Cup this year. As part of that campaign, the captains of multiple European teams — including Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Wales — were to wear armbands that read OneLove, designed with the rainbow colors of inclusion, particularly inclusion for LGBTQ people. The message was meant to be a visible protest against Qatar, which criminalizes same-sex relationships.
FIFA described the planned protest as improperly bringing politics to the pitch.
But after FIFA described the planned protest as improperly bringing politics to the pitch and promised repercussions, those teams issued a joint statement: “We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.”
Many of the players have expressed their utter disappointment with FIFA’s decision. European fans have as well. The Football Supporters’ Association, a representative body for football supporters in England and Wales, said that it “feels betrayed.” In a statement, the FSA wrote, “Since 2010 we have been raising questions about the suitability of Qatar as a World Cup host. Everyone could see this coming and it’s astonishing that, on the morning of England’s World Cup opener, FIFA are trying to censor players for sharing a positive message.”
Apparently, it’s not only the players who’ve been censored. Grant Wahl, a U.S. soccer reporter, said he attempted to enter a match wearing a rainbow T-shirt but was detained and prevented from attending.
In the U.S., columnists have excoriated FIFA and Qatar for breaking a promise to either allow the rainbow armbands or only lightly punish those wearing them, and yet, after five people were killed and 19 injured at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., it is impossible not to see the West’s cognitive dissonance on display.
Yes, Qatar’s laws condemning the LGBTQ community are unjust, but here in the United States, LGBTQ people are being targeted by gun-toting killers egged on by a right-wing media ecosystem. Political actors in state legislatures are codifying intolerance by making it illegal for trans kids to participate in society and criminalizing their access to certain health care.
It doesn’t always appear that those decrying the banning of armbands thousands of miles away are as vocal on behalf of those who are hunted and oppressed here at home. Our children’s hospitals are receiving bomb threats for providing legal gender-affirming care, and drag performers reading books to children rightly fear violence. Make no mistake: Social media is lit up with fascistic right-wingers fantasizing about bringing Qatar’s level of criminalization to our shores.
Here in the United States, LGBTQ people are being targeted by gun-toting killers egged on by a right-wing media ecosystem.
Many well-meaning people here may be wondering whether we should highlight Qatar’s mistreatment of LGBTQ people or clean our own house before lecturing other countries. Neither response is enough. We can express solidarity with the LGBTQ community of Qatar — and express solidarity with the women and migrant laborers who died while helping Qatar look presentable for this World Cup — and link Qatar’s oppressive laws to a broader, international trend toward right-wing authoritarianism that currently stalks the United States.
We must start seeing these revanchist movements as global. That means our movement must be global as well. That means we can’t stop at only pointing out injustices abroad. It means we have to turn the mirror of examination onto our own country, no matter how repugnant the reflection.
Dave Zirin is sports editor of The Nation. He is the author of 11 books on the politics of sports, including “The Kaepernick Effect.” He is also the host of the “Edge of Sports” podcast.