Following Belgium's decision to back down from wearing the 'One Love' armband for LGBTQ rights at the World Cup in Qatar in fear of sporting sanctions, several Brussels organisations are giving the international football association FIFA a symbolic red card ahead of Belgium's game tonight.
The Brussels RainbowHouse and Brussels Gay Sports are calling on FIFA to unconditionally adhere to its commitments and values of combating all forms of discrimination and protecting human rights – in football and wider society.
"We ask [FIFA president] Gianni Infantino to grant the Red Devils their freedom of expression by wearing the 'One Love' armband during all matches in Qatar for more inclusiveness in the world," the organisations said in a joint statement.
Before the start of the World Cup, seven European countries agreed that their team captains would wear the 'One Love' armband during games as a statement in defence of LGBTQ rights, as homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and people can face a maximum seven-year prison sentence.
Risking yellow cards
On Monday, however, all seven teams (England, Wales, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium) issued a joint statement saying that they would not go through with it, fearing sporting sanctions – such as a yellow card – from FIFA, which might affect their eligibility to participate further in the tournament.
"Following Qatar's designation as a host country by FIFA in 2010, several human rights organisations have continued to denounce the numerous violations of international conventions," the Brussels organisations stated. "But freedom of the press and freedom of association are very difficult to enforce in practice in Qatar. Unfair trials are held with allegations of torture and ill-treatment."
They pointed to the fact that women are constantly discriminated against in Qatar, as well as to the labour rights violations of the many migrants who have worked on constructing the stadiums and tournament infrastructure in an unprecedented human disaster.
"LGBTQ people are discriminated against, their identities denied and criminalised. Members of the LGBTQ community are jailed for up to seven years and subjected to physical and verbal violence. The death penalty is applied to the Muslim population of this community," they stressed.
Since 2021, the Royal Belgian Football Association (RBFA) has been collaborating with RainbowHouse Brussels in the "Come Together" campaign, which aims to bring everyone together and eradicate discrimination, racism, homophobia and other forms of inequality on the football pitch.
But when push comes to shove, it seems that the RBFA is not willing to commit. While the association stated that it was prepared to accept possible fines for team captain Eden Hazard wearing the 'One Love' armband, it is not willing to risk a card. "Therefore, Brussels Gay Sports and RainbowHouse Brussels are calling on the many activists, LGBTQ associations and their allies to carry out concrete actions in support of all people in Qatar who experience a restriction of their fundamental freedoms."
The organisations call on Belgian citizens and governments to fly the rainbow flag for the duration of the World Cup. "We ask activists and associations to come to RainbowHouse Brussels on Wednesday [before the Red Devils' first game] in the colours of the rainbow to give FIFA a red card."
Additionally, the organisations are "strongly urging" national, European and international football federations to make human rights "a key criterion" in their bids to host men's and women's football championships in the future. "We cannot relive a human tragedy like the one currently unfolding before our eyes."
- Red Devils condemned by former State Secretary over One Love armband decision
- Jan Vertonghen upset at One Love ban despite starting against Canada
- Belgian construction company involved in 'three official deaths' at World Cup in Qatar
The Red Devils and the RBFA have faced heavy criticism for the decision not to wear the armband from politicians, (social) media and the general public alike.
Amid calls to wear the armband and just accept the yellow card, Rémy Bonny (director of the non-profit organisation 'Forbidden Colours' advocacy group for the rights of LGBTQ communities) called on Belgium's team captain Eden Hazard and world-renowned midfielder Kevin De Bruyne to kiss during Wednesday's game.
In a similar call on Instagram, well-known Flemish radio and television presenter Siska Schoeters also called on Hazard to make a statement by kissing teammate Jan Vertonghen on Wednesday night. "What if Eden Hazard and Jan Vertonghen just give each other one kiss tomorrow at the start of the match? On the mouth? Then we win anyway."
Both players were tagged in the post, and Vertonghen even seemed in favour of the idea. "Deal! Now I just need to convince Eden," he responded. Later, however, he deleted his comment.
Earlier this week, Vertonghen already made it clear that he was not happy about the events surrounding the One Love armband during a press briefing. "If we make a statement now to wear that armband, we are punishing ourselves. I do not feel comfortable talking about this at all. That actually says enough. I am afraid I will not be on the pitch [tonight] if I say something."
Vertonghen voiced his regret about the situation: "This is not nice at all. If you can't even say 'no' to racism or discrimination. Well, I am not going to say anything else about it, because I want to be at the kick-off."
The Red Devils play Canada on Wednesday evening at 20:00 Belgian time.