World Cup

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World Cup roundup: Political protests flare in Qatar despite FIFAs efforts otherwise

A fan holds up a sign reading Woman Life Freedom Masha Amini prior to the World Cup match between England and Iran on Monday in Doha, Qatar. Iran has been roiled by street demonstrations since the September death of Amini, a 22-year-old who was detained by the countrys morality police for not wearing her hijab in accordance with government standards.

(Alessandra Tarantino / Associated Press)

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has asked for the focus at the World Cup to remain on soccer. But the game took a back seat to politics again on Monday when FIFA threatened to sanction players wearing rainbow-colored armbands in support of the LGBTQ community while Irans players refused to sing their countrys national anthem before their opening game with England.

The captains of seven European teams said they intended to wear armbands sporting the heart-shaped logo of the OneLove movement, which promotes inclusion and diversity in soccer and society. UEFA allowed teams to use the armbands in the latest round of Nations League games in September but the decision to wear them in Qatar, where same-sex relationships are banned, was widely viewed as a form of protest.

As a result, just hours before England kicked off against Iran, becoming the first European team to take the field in Qatar, global soccers governing body issued a statement saying players not wearing armbands provided by FIFA would be given a yellow card.

Shortly afterward the soccer federations of the seven European nations Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, England and Wales, which played the U.S. on Monday issued statements saying they would abide by the rule. Many promised before the tournament their captains would wear the armbands without FIFA approval.

FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play, the teams said in a joint statement on Monday.

Mondays ruling was just the latest in dizzying series of politically tinged actions by FIFA. Three days ago, global soccers governing body bowed to Qatari demands to ban beer sales at stadiums and the next morning Infantino delivered an bizarre address in which he said I feel gay, then went on to defend the host nations human rights record. On Sunday, the FIFA leader presided over a World Cup opening ceremony whose message centered in inclusion.

The U.S., which has posted rainbow branding at the teams media center and at fan events, said it always planned to wear the FIFA-provided armband.

While we never planned to wear a non-FIFA approved armband, we were supportive of the UEFA teams that planned to wear that OneLove armband, said Neil Buethe U.S. Soccers chief communications officer.

While many European teams were backing off on their planned protest, Irans players stood silent, arms across one anothers shoulders, during their national anthem in an apparent show of solidarity with protesters back home. Iran has been roiled by street demonstrations since the September death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who was detained by the countrys morality police for not wearing her hijab in accordance with government standards.

There was loud booing during the anthem from the large group of Iranian supporters at Khalifa International Stadium, some of whom held signs reading Women, Life and Freedom. Irans Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz has given his players permission to protest while in Qatar. Mondays game took place as security forces fired at demonstrators in two predominantly Kurdish cities.

Supporters of Irans soccer team react during the countrys national anthem Monday in in Doha, Qatar.

(Alessandra Tarantino / Associated Press)

Protesters have adopted the act of cutting their hair as a symbolic gesture of discontent with the Iranian regime. In the International Beach Soccer Cup earlier this month, Irans Saeed Piramoun mimicked the art of cutting his hair after scoring in a 2-1 win over Brazil.

The beach soccer team did not sing the national anthem before its semifinal, prompting state television to cut its feed, and the players did not celebrate when awarded the Cup, instead standing sternly with their arms crossed.

French referee Stephanie Frappart will become the first woman to work a mens World Cup game when she serves as the fourth official for Tuesdays Mexico-Poland game. Three female referees and three assistant referees, including American Kathryn Nesbitt and Mexican Karen Daz, were invited to Qatar to officiate the tournament, breaking FIFAs prohibition on using women in mens World Cup games.

This is a transformative moment in sports, said Kari Seitz, FIFAs head of refereeing for women, who has been pushing for the change for years. This big step will positively influence those who are still hesitant to give women the opportunities they deserve based on their qualities.

Frappart was the first woman to referee in the top two tiers of mens soccer in France and in 2019 she worked the UEFA Super Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea. A year later she became the first women to referee in the Champions League, doing a Juventus-Dinamo Kiev match.

Nesbitt will serve as the reserve AR for Tuesdays France-Australia game.

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