The ongoing World Cup in Qatar has already seen a couple upsets – Argentina losing to minnows Saudi Arabia and Japan upsetting four-time winners Germany. But despite the action on the pitch hotting up, the controversies off the pitch simply refuse to die down.
FIFA’s latest ban on the ‘one-love’ arm band that European teams were planning to wear to express their solidarity for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community has predictably raised hackles in the West. What’s more teams like England, Wales and The Netherlands complying with the ban has led to more moral outrage. From a footballing perspective it makes sense as the players wearing such bands risked getting a yellow card and if they collected another one in the group stages they could potentially miss a crucial knock-out stage match.
The German team expressed their protest against FIFA’s move by putting their hands on their mouths during the pre-match photo shoot to criticise FIFA’s gag order. But the more courageous protest gesture was by the Iran team before their opening match against England. Expressing solidarity with the protests back home for greater freedoms, the Iranian players locked hands, bowed their heads and refused to sing their national anthem before the match kicked off. This act of courage must get the highest appreciation as the players could be punished for their act by the Iranian government when they return home. The Iranian captain Ehasan Hajsafi in a hugely defiant act even said in a pre-match press conference that his team stood with the protesters and expressed condolences with grieving families back home.
So given the huge personal cost involved in the Iranian team’s protest, did the European team back down a little too easily on FIFA’s arm band ban? After all, the price involved was only a yellow card? As in life, football too presents these huge moral dilemmas.