The World Cup needs a John Carlos and a Tommie Smith.

Football teams for seven European nations announced on November 21, 2022 that their captains will not wear LGBTQ armbands in host country Qatar. The captains for England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland originally intended to wear the OneLove rainbow armband to promote diversity and inclusion. Then the FIFA stepped in to threaten penalties for any captain or other player who wore the armband. The football association said in a joint statement, “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. We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented. As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings.”  But the teams promised to show support for “inclusion” in other ways.

Opposition to any displays of LGBTQ has happened off the football pitches, too. Homosexuality is a crime in Qatar, and public displays of it are heavily fought against. Some patrons report being harassed in public spaces such as streets, and others tell of having their LGBTQ hats confiscated when they tried to enter stadiums. Football fans are being asked to respect the culture of  the host country.

For the October 16, 1968, awards ceremony honoring the three medal winners in the 200-meter sprint, two young American, Black sprinters, who had won gold and bronze medals, stood and  protested world-wide racism as they accepted their Olympic medals. Tommie Smith and John Carlos wore beads and scarves to oppose lynching and black socks with no shoes to publicize poverty. During the American national anthem they each raised a black-gloved fist and bowed their heads. The American IOC immediately expelled the two college students from the Olympic village and sent them back to America where they were threatened and vilified by the public and the press. Yet their protest is still to be found in pictures and articles, and over 50 years later their act is seen as what is was—heroic.

So, the federations of seven European nations say,  “As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings.” 

Those managers, coaches, and players should read about Smith and Carlos and perhaps derive some spunk from their act of bravery. After all, how bad can a booking or removal from the pitch be when compared to what LGBTQ folks experience every day.

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