Banning anti-discrimination armbands at the World Cup in Qatar would send out a “devastating” signal, a world players’ union chief has said.
FIFA is yet to confirm whether captains from nine European nations, including England and Wales, will be permitted to wear the ‘OneLove’ armband at matches in the tournament this winter.
Same-sex relationships and their promotion are illegal in Qatar, which has also been criticised over its treatment of migrant workers.
FIFPRO general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann urged football’s world governing body to “think very hard” before banning the armbands and expects some players will take a stand on human rights issues at the finals regardless.
“I think that there will be a devastating sign (if FIFA ban the armbands), but I don’t think that it will ultimately happen,” Baer-Hoffmann told the PA news agency.
“I would encourage anybody to think very hard about trying to prevent the players from doing this. And I think ultimately it will be possible to do it.”
Baer-Hoffman likened it to a situation which developed at the men’s Euros last summer when tournament organisers UEFA opened an investigation into whether Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s wearing of a rainbow armband was a political statement.
Ultimately it was decided Neuer, who wore the armband in support of the LGBT+ community in Pride Month, had no case to answer.
Baer-Hoffmann expects some players will take a stance on human rights issues at the finals, but said too much responsibility was falling on the players.
“I will say that more and more of them are actually quite concerned (about playing in Qatar). But what I keep emphasising – and I think it’s important that the public appreciates – none of the players had a choice of where this World Cup would take place, none.
“But they will be the ones who actually represent publicly what this tournament will be.
“Do I expect that some players will take a stance? Absolutely. But it is still an environment where people need to appreciate that while athletes will speak out, and while athletes will do what they can to raise awareness, it’s the institutions that can really have an impact, it is not on the individuals.”
He believes in the long run competition organisers will have less ability to restrict players in speaking out or making gestures on social issues.
“The institutions cannot afford to run that point of friction with the players any more,” he said.
“I think the institutions need to understand that they need the players’ buy-in in order to operate their tournaments.
“Historically, yes there’s been a lot of control, but I think that’s slowly shifting.”