Armbands supporting LGBTQ rights were abandoned before they were even worn
As a gesture, it was already hollow. “#OneLove” armbands were due to be worn by players from England, Wales and several other European nations as a symbol of solidarity towards LGBTQ people while the World Cup was held in one of the world’s most sexually repressive countries.
But Richard Of York did not Give Battle In Vain for the rainbow on these armbands — instead the spectrum on offer was red, black, green, magenta, yellow and cyan. Even this was deemed too offensive for the mediaeval Qatari hosts, forcing FIFA, football’s governing body, to threaten immediate yellow cards for players wearing the bands.
Having intended to highlight how gay men face heavy fines and seven years of imprisonment, if not the death penalty, in the tournament’s host country, the teams promptly folded. This afternoon England’s players hit Iran for six, displaying impressive attacking chemistry but no symbols of protest.
Of course, Enlightenment values of tolerance and liberalism were never going to be fit to compete with the sackfuls of cash on offer, as well as a chance at footballing glory.
“As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games,” said seven European teams in a joint statement.
Here’s the thing: LGBTQ people don’t get to choose between gestures and money. This is our existence, and sexual repression results in real, measurable harm — from bullying and self-censorship to the sharp end of depression, sexual violence and suicide.
“Qatar 2022 will be a celebration of unity and diversity — a joining of people from all walks of life — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression — everybody will be welcome,” FIFA said only months ago, in a Pride Month statement.
What individuals and organisations say and what they do diverge with gay abandon, and growing up gay, you learn to be a cynic. For LGBTQ people, Pride Month is fast becoming an annual ritual of noticing how global companies drape themselves in the symbols of our liberation as a clout-boosting branding exercise, except in the countries where this symbolism matters the most.
Joe Lycett is right — protest without fear of consequence isn’t protest at all. David Beckham may have been the first Premier League footballer in history to appear on the front cover of Attitude magazine, a popular gay monthly, but if he isn’t prepared to follow that well-intentioned publicity with deeds in the present, his gesture is meaningless to us. Much like the unworn OneLove armbands.