Qatar World Cup: Playing Rainbow Political Football

Just over a year ago, Josh Cavallo became the first professional footballer to come out as openly gay. The first topflight footballer to do so in a long time, there was hope that this would be a watershed moment for the beautiful game. How naïve. 

As captain Harry Kane ditched the bare minimum ‘protest’ at the first sign of any real consequence, the names of the victims of another mass shooting began to come out of Colorado. The target was Club Q, the only queer club for miles around in Colorado. Five people were killed and seventeen injured on Transgender Day of Remembrance and the first day of the controversial tournament. As the England team stood singing the national anthem, a real act of protest came from the Iranian team that refused to sing their own. 

Iran has been swept by protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody after morality police detained the 22-year-old. There has already been criticism of the team and threats after the “insult” to their national anthem from Iranian media organisations and politicians. There is a real danger of reprisal for the players as the protest death count reaches over 300. What was the danger for English players? A yellow card. 

The ’One Love’ armband was specifically designed to be as bland a statement as possible. There are no pride rainbows or explicit references to sexuality, yet FIFA still banned it. I can’t help but think how powerful a moment it would have been if Harry Kane had gotten booked for wearing it. What’s the point in posing for a photoshoot with the armband if you’re just going to take it off at the first sign of resistance? That’s when you know it’s working.

How has the UK reacted to this? Well, it was clear that the government wasn’t going to be much help when the foreign secretary asked LGBTQ+ fans to be respectful of the country by pretty much going back in the closet for a few days. The conservatives have a legacy of being on the wrong side of LGBTQ+ rights despite being in government when same sex marriage was legalised. It shouldn’t take a world cup to be talking about the dangerous rise in discrimination in the UK, especially against transgender people that face discrimination from charities aiming to separate the T from the LGB, in a tweet extending solidarity only to LGB patrons when a transgender man was one of the victims. 

Joe Lycett further raised the issue, targeting David Beckham and his million dollar deal with Qatar. After causing a stir ‘shredding’ £10,000 after Becks refused to respond to the #benderslikebeckham campaign. Lycett did not actually shred £10,000. He had already donated the money before starting the campaign because he knew that David Beckham wouldn’t even respond. The biggest outrage was still faced by Lycett and his potential shredding of £10k rather than at the former Attitude magazine cover star. 

How should our team and country be reacting? Look no further than Germany. Covering their mouths during their national anthem and wearing rainbows on warm up kits, it makes headlines. The German interior minister sat beside FIFA’s president wearing the One Love armband during the game too. The German Football Federation is also taking legal action against FIFA after a popular German supermarket cut ties with it. 

It isn’t just LGBTQ+ rights that are in the spotlight this world cup as rights for migrant workers and women are also of concern. However, as I sat watching the first half of England vs Iran and the pub jeering at a platonic kiss on the Iranian goalkeeper’s head, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. It’s a reminder of the homophobia that continues to plague even in a progressive university city during a game intended for everyone. 

I can’t help but feel that there was a chance to take a stand. Now, the silence is louder than it has ever been. 

This article is dedicated to the victims and survivors of Club Q.
Daniel Aston. Derrick Rump. Kelly Loving. Ashley Paugh. Raymond Vance.

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