Belgium's Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib attended the Red Devils' first match at the World Cup in Qatar on Wednesday, where she was seen wearing the much-discussed 'One Love' armband while speaking to FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
To emphasise the importance of human rights in general and LGBTQ people in particular, Lahbib wore the 'One Love' armband on the official stand during the Belgium-Canada match. She took the match as an opportunity to speak to FIFA president Gianni Infantino about the decision to prohibit captains of national teams from wearing the armband – a symbol of openness, tolerance and LGBTQ rights.
"Infantino explained to me why he made the choice not to allow the Red Devils to wear a 'One Love' armband, according to FIFA rules," Lahbib told RTBF. "However, these rules do not apply in the stands."
In the run-up to the football tournament, coverage of the event has been overshadowed by Qatar's abuse of human rights, sexism, racism and state-sanctioned homophobia, which is why seven European countries decided that their team captains would wear the 'One Love' armband during games as a statement against discrimination and in defence of LGBTQ rights.
On Monday, however, the teams 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.
Still, wearing the armband in the stands also sends a "symbolically strong message," Lahbib said. "I know [Red Devils' captain] Eden Hazard would have liked to wear it on the pitch. But as the Foreign Minister, I am the spokesperson in the stands; it was an important message to deliver."
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Lahbib's cabinet stated that it was "a courteous conversation" about respect for freedom of expression, the values that football brings and how to express them on the pitch or in the stands, among other things. After expressing their respective views, Infantino and Lahbib followed the match together.
During her mission to Qatar, Lahbib also met Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani to convey the Belgian government's message and share her concerns about the working conditions of immigrants in Qatar and human rights, especially women's and LGBTQ rights.
"I am happy about this quick visit to Qatar, which has allowed us to remind our Qatari partners of our commitment to human rights and our concern about respect for social rights," Lahbib said in a press release.
"Although there is still a long way to go, we have seen efforts made and results achieved. We will continue to encourage Qatar in this direction."