One Love at the World Cup: Are the Dutch protesting in Qatar?
This year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar has been mired in controversy since the country was announced as the host in December 2010. The competition may well be underway, but the debates and discussions about the tournament continue.
One key topic has been LGBTQ+ rights in Qatar, and the One Love armbands that some football teams had planned to wear in protest. But what are the armbands, why did FIFA ban them, and what action is the Netherlands taking?
What are the One Love armbands?
The One Love armbands aren’t new; in fact, they were launched by the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) back in 2020 in a move to campaign against discrimination within football and as a whole.
The thick white armbands feature a rainbow heart, and the words “One Love” and “football connects”. They are manufactured here in the Netherlands, at a factory in Utrecht.
In the lead-up to the 2022 World Cup, as both countries and fans considered how they should approach the tournament when there had been so much controversy and debate in the run-up to the first match on November 20, captains from several European teams, including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and England, announced that they’d be wearing the armbands as a form of protest against Qatar’s poor LGBTQ+ rights record.
Did Qatar and FIFA ban the One Love armbands?
However, just days before the opening match between Ecuador and Qatar, the football associations from the seven countries who’d planned to wear the armbands issued a joint statement revealing that FIFA had said any player wearing the armband would receive a yellow card. FIFA regulations do state that kits and equipment cannot feature any political or religious imagery or statements.
In response, one by one, football associations announced they wouldn’t be taking the risk. Wales said the countries involved in the plan had been prepared to pay any potential fines incurred, but that action against the players would be unfair to the team and the sport.
In spite of severe reactions from football fans and various LGBTQ+ and human rights groups, FIFA remained silent on the issue, and so the yellow card rule remained unchanged.
The Netherlands and the One Love armbands
Following the news about the yellow cards, the KNVB said it had taken the decision not to wear the armband during matches “with a heavy heart”. Speaking to NU, KNVB secretary-general Gijs de Jong said he believed “FIFA banned the armband under pressure from conservative movements in Qatar,” adding that the association would “continue to put pressure on FIFA.”
The captain of the Dutch team, Virgil van Dijk, was criticised for the decision, but has since defended his actions: “There are people who say we don’t have a backbone, but that’s not how it works. We just want to play football. I would have loved to play with that band, but not at the expense of a yellow card.” he told NOS following the Netherlands’ first game on November 21.
The Dutch have taken some action, however. During the Netherlands’ match against Qatar on November 29, Minister for Sport Conny Helder - who was in attendance as a representative for the Dutch government - wore the One Love badge on her lapel, following the advice issued by the KNVB ahead of the game. While some criticised this act for being too small, Helder defended her decision, telling NOS she "fully supports the idea of the OneLove campaign: OneLove stands for equality and connection."
Other protests at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
On Tuesday during England’s match against Wales, the British State Secretary for Sport, Stuart Andrew, did wear the armband, as well as a brightly coloured rainbow tie. Andrew, who is openly gay, told the Evening Standard he wasn’t going to “shy away from who I am.” The German national team also took a stand following their match against Japan on November 23. When posing for a photo after the game, all players covered their mouths with their hands.
During the Netherlands’ match against Qatar, the Qatari Minister of Justice donned a black and white armband in a show of solidarity with Palestine. Meanwhile, ahead of Iran’s match against England on November 21, the Iranian players refused to sing their national anthem as a token of support for the ongoing protests against the Iranian government.
Qatar's reaction to the One Love armbands and protests
Hassan Al-Thawadi, the head of the Qatar organising committee for the World Cup, has spoken out against the One Love campaign, accusing the seven countries who’d planned to wear the armbands of sending a “divisive message” and failing to respect Islamic culture.
“If they are coming to make a point or a statement in Qatar, that is something I have an issue with, Al-Thawadi said in an interview with talkSPORT. “For teams to come and preach or make statements, that is fine, but what you’re essentially saying is you’re protesting an Islamic country hosting an event. So where does that end?”
Al-Thawadi went on to say that “mutual respect is fundamental,” adding that organisers have said “from day one” that “everybody is welcome” at the World Cup.
The Netherlands’ next match will see them face off against USA as part of the knockout phase. Kick-off is at 4pm on Saturday, December 3.