Wembley arch lit up in rainbow colours for England-United States World Cup clash

The Wembley arch was lit up in rainbow colours on Friday evening following a week at the World Cup dominated by a row over a rainbow-coloured armband.

Seven European nations, including England and Wales, had hoped to wear the armband as part of a year-long OneLove anti-discrimination campaign in Qatar, but had to abandon those plans when FIFA threatened them with sporting sanctions, which only started at a yellow card for the captains wearing them.

There had been speculation over whether England might follow Germany and stage an on-pitch protest, but, in the build-up to kick-off in England’s second match against the United States, the Football Association demonstrated its support for the campaign by lighting up the arch on the national stadium in north London.

The FA said in a statement: “The FA will continue to show our support to the LGBTQ+ community and all other communities during this tournament and long beyond, starting with lighting up the Wembley Stadium arch in rainbow colours for Friday night’s match with the USA.”

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said the disciplinary action the team could have faced from FIFA for wearing the armband was “unlimited”.

Bullingham told ITV Sport: “It’s very important to understand what happened here. We have been clear that we wanted to wear it and we were committed.

“We announced that we would do that in September, we had a lot of meetings with FIFA over that period and on Saturday before the game we felt we’d reached an understanding where we would wear it. We hadn’t got permission but we would face a fine for it.

“Unfortunately then on the day of the game they gave us 10 minutes’ notice – two hours before we were due to go to the game…they came here with five officials and they ran us through a scenario where at a minimum anyone wearing the armband would be booked and face disciplinary action on top of that.

“It was unlimited. They would take disciplinary action against any player that was wearing the armband on top of having a yellow card.”

Mark Bullingham
FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said England could have faced “unlimited” disciplinary action for wearing a rainbow armband at the Qatar World Cup (Nick Potts/PA)

Bullingham said the FA took that to mean players could face bans from further games if the bands were worn, not just a yellow card.

He added: “We are frustrated, we’re angry, we thought it was outrageous the way this was handled. That doesn’t move us anywhere we wanted to go. We wanted to show our support to the community and were not able to do so.”

Reacting to Bullingham’s comments, former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville accused FIFA of being a “rogue organisation”.

“It’s what I’d expect the FA to say, they’re a risk-averse organisation, always have been,” Neville said during ITV’s coverage of England’s game against the United States.

“It doesn’t surprise me that FIFA have acted like that, they’re a rogue organisation who, in this particular tournament, we’re probably seeing them at their worst.

“They don’t need to be that way. What’s an armband going to do to harm FIFA?

Gary Neville
Former England footballer and ITV pundit Gary Neville called FIFA a “rogue organisation” as the World Cup armband row continued (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“I accept the fact that ultimately they’ve got rules and laws against political protests but the reality is I think they (England) should have seen it through because they’d spoken so much about it and backed themselves into a corner.”

Neville’s fellow pundit Ian Wright added: “You’re looking at FIFA as an organisation turning up at England’s hotel two hours before a game mob-handed, threatening them with what they can do.

“I’m sure that’s going to frighten them a little bit but they decided to do it before the tournament.

“There’s no protest without risk – I wanted them to wear it, they didn’t wear it, the FA have now given their reasons why they couldn’t do it and I’m done with it.”

Germany protested against FIFA’s stance by covering their mouths for a team photo before their match against Japan on Wednesday, to highlight how they felt silenced.

Earlier on Friday, Sanjay Bhandari, the chair of Kick It Out, responded to suggestions that players faced ‘unlimited liability’ for wearing the armband, writing on Twitter: “What FIFA did is beyond failing to live their values and is a sinister abuse of power designed to silence – hence the German gag protest.

“I guess if you hang around with autocratic dictators long enough, you start picking up some of their habits.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino received an Order of Friendship medal from Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2019, and has been accused of bowing to the sensitivities of the Qatari state over the sale of alcohol at stadiums during the World Cup and in the armband row.