World Cup Qatar: Football sold its soul the moment it put its One Love armband away

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Qatar was where football went to bury its soul in the desert sand.

The World Cup was the one tournament that captured the imaginations of fans and non-fans alike - from Nobby Styles jigging with joy at Wembley in ‘66 to Ally McLeod with his head in his hands in Argentina in ‘78 after his magic carpet ceased to fly, all the way to Italia ‘90.

FIFA’s greed is nothing new, but this hideously bloated organisation lost whatever sliver of credibility it clung to by taking the competition to Qatar.

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Players are caught in the middle - damned if they don’t speak up, damned if they do - but letting them off the hook to focus purely on matters on the pitch sits very uneasily on the shoulders of many. You cannot separate sport from the stench of politics which corrupts it.

General view outside the stadium in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)General view outside the stadium in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
General view outside the stadium in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

The spineless actions of the FA are in stark contrast to the bravery of the Iranian team they shipped six goals past. The English team was one of a number to adopt the idea of their captains wearing One Love armbands to send a visible message of anti-discrimination and support for the LGBTQ+ community.

FIFA hinted at fines. The FA said it’d cough up.

FIFA then played its ace card - the threat of a yellow card for anyone wearing the armband. The FA, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland, folded immediately.

Mark Bullingham, chief executive, had said: “We think it’s really important to show our values. And that’s what we’ll be doing.”And then they didn’t.

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The One Love armband wasn’t a gesture, it was an important statement, just not one important enough to actually stand by. The FA should have called FIFA’s bluff, and walked on to the pitch wearing the One Love armband. Imagine if they’d defied the referee to wave his wee yellow card and then simply handed the armband to the next player, and the next, and the next all in front of the TV cameras. Would FIFA really have stood firm?

Contrast the FA’s craven approach with the courage of their Iranian opponents. With their country descending in protests, they stood mute, refusing to sing their national anthem knowing that such defiance placed their lives in real danger.

Their captain, Ehsan Hajsafi, went further: “They should know that we are with them, we support them.”

That is leadership, that is how a true captain speaks out.

In Qatar, football is not for everyone. Female Welsh fans wearing Rainbow coloured hats were told to remove them - more insidious control by a country which wants to project a very select image of itself far removed from the dark shadows which hover over its human rights record and deplorable approach to diversity.

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That’s why words matter, and actions can be defining moments.

Kane and everyone in the FA should go watch the footage from Mexico City in 1968 when two African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised a black-gloved fist during the playing of the their national anthem at the Olympics. More than 50 years later it remains a powerful image.

England’s One Love armbands being worn in defiance of Qatar and FIFA could have been, should have been, another. Some people think it’s all over. For football, it is now.

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