Sanjay Bhandari: Sinister abuse of power from FIFA over OneLove armband

FIFA threatened sporting sanctions, starting at a yellow card for the captains, if the armbands were worn.

Sanjay Bhandari: Sinister abuse of power from FIFA over OneLove armband

FIFA has been accused of a “sinister abuse of power” in the OneLove armband row by Kick It Out.

The captains of seven nations, including England and Wales, had been due to wear the rainbow-coloured anti-discrimination armbands at the World Cup in Qatar, a country where same-sex relationships are criminalised.

However, the plans were dropped when it became apparent in the hours before England’s first match of the finals against Iran on Monday that sporting sanctions would be imposed.

The PA news agency understands a booking to the captain wearing the band would have only been the starting point of the sanctions, with Harry Kane, Gareth Bale and the other five skippers also set to have been prevented from entering the pitch wearing it.

Germany protested against FIFA’s stance by covering their mouths for a team photo before their match against Japan on Wednesday, to highlight how they felt silenced. Wales have said they will not protest before their match against Iran on Friday, and it is unclear what England will do when they face the United States on Friday evening.

Sanjay Bhandari, the chair of Kick It Out, responded to a tweet suggesting the OneLove captains faced ‘unlimited liability’ over the armbands and wrote on Twitter: “What FIFA did is beyond failing to live their values and is a sinister abuse of power designed to silence – hence the German gag protest.

“I guess if you hang around with autocratic dictators long enough, you start picking up some of their habits.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino pictured with Vladimir Putin at the 2018 World Cup
FIFA president Gianni Infantino pictured with Vladimir Putin at the 2018 World Cup (Owen Humphreys/PA)

He also spoke in an extraordinary press conference last Saturday about how he had tried to take Women’s World Cup matches to North Korea.

The Football Association has rejected the suggestion chief executive Mark Bullingham skipped a meeting with FIFA where armbands were discussed in October.

The gathering on October 12 was attended by members of the UEFA Working Group on Qatar, which includes members of the OneLove group.

But it was not a full meeting of the working group and was called at short notice, with Bullingham committed to addressing 800 FA staff at a conference in person for the first time in two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The meeting was to discuss a range of outstanding issues, of which the armband was only one. The group was also seeking clarity on commitments related to a migrant workers’ support centre and compensation fund, and reassurances over the safety of LGBTQ+ fans in Qatar.

While the FA and other OneLove countries had not been given a clear answer, they arrived in Qatar braced for off-field sanctions in the shape of fines for wearing the armband.

That remained the position until Sunday, when rumours began to circulate that sporting sanctions would be imposed instead, something that was confirmed to the associations by FIFA on Monday.

“The meeting on October 12 was never a full meeting of the UEFA working group,” the FA said.

“It was a short-notice meeting with FIFA to try to resolve all the outstanding issues, of which the armband was one. Three countries represented the group at the meeting and the armband issue was not resolved.”

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