FIFA has been accused of giving a “platform to hatred” after seven World Cup sides backed down from plans to wear OneLove armbands at the tournament due to fears of being sanctioned by the governing body.
England and Wales, both playing their first matches on Monday, were among those whose captains had been due to wear the armbands in a gesture of solidarity with LGBTQ+ people.
Homosexuality is illegal in the World Cup host country of Qatar, with LGBTQ+ people in the nation having faced being surveilled and arrested.
Nassar al-Khater, chief executive of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, has insisted that all are welcome at the tournament.
However, there has been widespread criticism of the decision to hold the tournament in the country, with fan groups opting to boycott it.
In a statement ahead of their match against Iran, the English FA said that it had been prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations.
However, the body explained that it could not put players in a position where they could be booked or forced to leave the field of play.
“FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play,” the statement read.
“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.
“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband.
“However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.”
The statement continued: “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented.
“We wrote to FIFA in September informing them of our wish to wear the One Love armband to actively support inclusion in football and had no response.
“Our players and coaches are disappointed – they are strong supporters of inclusion and will show support in other ways.”
LGBT football groups and politicians criticised FIFA, with the organisation accused of silencing anti-discrimination work.
In a joint statement, fan groups Three Lions Pride and The Rainbow Wall insisted that the abuse of power cannot be allowed to stand.
“In seeking to censor European FAs and players by forcing them to abandon using the ‘OneLove’ armband aimed at tackling all forms of discrimination, FIFA are guilty of crushing the basic human rights to freedom of speech and of expression that every single one of us should have without question,” they said.
“In doing so, FIFA are guilty of silencing anti-discrimination work within the game and of giving a platform to hatred.
“This abuse of power by those who have chosen to remain silent for so long is a gross betrayal of trust and cannot be allowed to stand.
“We have no faith in FIFA, no trust in this World Cup.”
The UK’s culture secretary Michelle Donelan also voiced her support for the OneLove campaign, as she expressed disappointment at England’s players being threatened with sanctions.
“The England & Wales players have my support,” she wrote on Twitter.
“The #OneLove armband promotes diversity & inclusion, which are values we will always stand up for.
“It is disappointing that our players are put in a position where they face being punished for supporting equal human rights.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman added: “We share the FA’s frustration with FIFA’s decision on this which puts players in a very difficult position.
“It is, ultimately, a decision for the FA.
“On LGBT rights more broadly, clearly Qatar’s policies are not those of the UK Government and not ones we would endorse.”