Credit: Republic of Korea (Photographer: Heo Manjin) via Wikimedia Commons

FIFA’s ban of OneLove armbands shouldn’t be overlooked

By Sanskar Ranglani

Gestures of solidarity will always be met with scrutiny and consequences, but that doesn’t make them any less important.

In the last couple of weeks as the FIFA World Cup has kicked off, so has a wave of different decisions by the federation which have sparked outrage across the world. This World Cup has been marred with controversy in its build up for several years now. First, the US Department of Justice confirmed that FIFA officials were bribed by Qatar to win the bid to host. This was followed by news of migrant workers dying while building the World Cup infrastructure projects, and Qatar’s misleading claims regarding the carbon neutrality of the event (Scientific American called it “a climate catastrophe”). The most recent outrage is FIFA’s decision to ban OneLove armands, which have been used as a gesture of support for the LGBTQ+ community.

The world is still suffering from rising queerphobia: attacks on trans rights, gay club shootings in the US, Hungary and Poland’s anti-queer attitudes. Meanwhile, FIFA President Gianni Infantino says in response to rightful criticism against the organisation, that he feels persecuted too. While his diatribe, which was brimming with whataboutism, may have drawn widespread criticism, FIFA’s anti-queer policies have been written off by most fans. People continue to watch the World Cup as normal, thinking that the queer community is being nitpicky about not respecting a country’s culture and laws. However, these so-called allies forget to understand that for the queer community – especially the queer community in the Middle East – it is a matter of life and death. Since most readers of this article will be living in Scotland, which has relatively lower rates of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, we can all go about our lives – but it is about the principles that one believes in. You may not see a problem in talking about FIFA as usual, but your queer friends will. 

The federation threatened to issue yellow cards to players for wearing a symbol of equality, and that was all it took to stop so-called-allies from doing it. This makes me wonder whether the support was legitimate from the get-go. In my opinion, it’s become clear in light of this ban, that the armbands were always a performative show of support. If any form of allyship can be suppressed by its consequences, it was not genuine allyship to begin with. 

There is also news regarding Qatar’s World Cup ambassador openly saying that being queer is forbidden, while countless Qataris undergo perils of state-mandated conversion therapy and legal challenges which not only put their safety at stake, but also leave them in a mentally vulnerable state. The Kingdom’s hypocrisy has also been exposed recently, since claims in 2020 that rainbow flags will be allowed to fly during the world cup have been proven wrong, with audience members being disallowed from carrying anything with rainbows on it. 

Ultimately, in a country which condemns gay people to death by stoning, flying rainbow flags and wearing armbands will not achieve anything. What the world needed to do was boycott this year’s World Cup. If their allyship was real, teams should have pulled out, and players should have refused to participate. While some individuals online are insistent that this is about respecting a country’s tradition and laws, I fail to understand why a country so intolerant of people openly expressing their diverse identities would be qualified to host an international event in the first place. Qatar could have simply not been the host, FIFA could have not accepted their bid, and we would not be discussing why people should speak out against homophobia in 2022. As an international organisation which has agreed to propagate the UN’s equality goals, FIFA, led by Gianni Infantino, is failing at this pledge. Sports have the ability to bring people together, and an event like the FIFA World Cup has the power to influence the attitudes of the world for good. But instead, it gives in to the regressive laws of a country with a diabolical human rights record, knowing well in advance that there will be queer viewers, and queer athletes who will put their lives at stake to participate. 

This highlights how far we are from reaching a world where queer people like me can feel safe and supported. I have been asked by many people whether I am watching the World Cup or not, and the answer is no. While some people may argue that it’s senseless to boycott an event as big as the World Cup, I disagree. The World Cup is not too big for a boycott. Frankly, nothing is. The allies around me who think so, I dare say, are not allies in reality. If watching a football competition is more important to you than supporting your queer friends, you are not an ally. By comparison, looking at how the German football federation has said it is planning to take legal action against FIFA for the ban, it’s clear that this situation warrants a response from allies – not just an acceptance of the blatant discrimination. 

To hide behind the veil of religion to justify bigotry is medieval, and the need to highlight this in 2022 is a testament to how marginalised queer people still are. The world remains rife with internalised homophobia and performative support. Those who participate and engage in this World Cup in any manner are complicit in discrimination, whether they call themselves an “ally” or not. 


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Absolutely 100% spot on. You’re right, an event that is watched all over the world, that brings such huge sums to its hosts, that is large enough to cause a spike in migrant worker abuse, is inherently political. Nothing short of a boycott will register as a protest against Qatar’s atrocious human rights record. Great article!


Well articulated. Keep going!