World Cup captains give up on show of support for LGBTQ+ rights

I’m a fan of Ted Lasso. One of my favorite moments in the series happens in the locker room, shortly after Sam Obisanya tapes over the sponsor’s name on his kit—a protest against the pollution they’ve caused in Nigeria. After explaining his actions to the rest of the team and saying he doesn’t expect anyone who doesn’t have ties to Nigeria to join them, Jamie Tartt asks for the tape.

“Gotta wear the same kit,” is all Jamie says, but it sets in motion the entire team taking a stand behind Sam.

Someone with no direct connection to the outrage decides to step up and support the person taking the risk of speaking out against an injustice.

Sure, it’s just a tv show. It’s aspirational more than reflective of the realities of the relationship between politics, money, and sports.

But we need aspirational stories in part to help us recognize cowardice and expect more of others.

Captains from several European teams intended to wear armbands in support of LGBTQ+ rights at the World Cup in Qatar. Until they realized there might be “sporting consequences.”

The governing bodies – England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland – said they had written to Fifa in September informing them about the OneLove armband but not received a response.

“Fifa has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play,” the statement added.

“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.”

World Cup 2022: England, Wales & other European nations will not wear OneLove armbands

Faced with the possibility that they might face a suspension of their ability to play in the World Cup, everyone agreed to throw in the towel on what was a mainly symbolic and insufficient gesture, but at least it was an attempt.

For comparison, here’s what LGBTQ+ people living or traveling in Qatar face in a nation that criminalizes their existence:

According to [Human Rights Watch], Qatar’s security forces have arrested people in public based on their gender expression, unlawfully searched their phones and mandated that detained transgender women had to attend conversion therapy sessions as a condition of their release.

Same-sex “sexual conduct” between men is illegal in Qatar, although there is no outright ban on same-sex relationships between women, according to a U.S. State Department report from 2021. Men 16 years of age and older who engage in sexual conduct can be punished by up to seven years in prison, the State Department said. 

Weeks away from World Cup, human rights group says host Qatar continues to mistreat LGBTQ people

But this isn’t what FIFA wants you to think about, and it’s something the players aren’t going to get you to focus on, either. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has provided a flood of soundbites trying to minimize legitimate questions and concerns about the conditions of this World Cup:

“We all have difficult lives,” Infantino said, though he chose not to discuss whether all of those difficulties are equal or even, really, comparable. All any of us craves, he said, is the chance to forget those worries for a while, to have some time “when we don’t have to think about this,” but can instead “concentrate on something we love, and that thing is football.”

It is hard to think of a more fitting summary for this World Cup, for the World Cup in general, for the way FIFA sees the world. Life is hard, and complicated, and unhappy. But try not to talk about it, or ask any questions about it, or even think about it all. Better, far better, not to resist, but instead to sit back and allow it wash over you and through you, an opiate against the pain.

Welcome to the Joy-Free World Cup

People with a platform may choose how to use it. They’re under no obligation to anyone else unless they see it that way.

But people with a platform who willingly walk away from showing support, empathy, and love for others; who chuck them aside because they’ve bought in to the notion that the game comes first and being a human comes second…

It’s disappointing.

And we know what it looks like when people in their position choose to take a risk in order to do better and be better.