Sports, Football

England fear ‘unlimited liability on captains in dropping armband protest’

Published : 25 Nov 2022 08:39 PM

England, Wales and five other European nations feared their captains would be exposed to “unlimited liability” and would have faced suspensions if they had defied Fifa’s banning of the pro-diversity OneLove armband during the World Cup.

Despite facing criticism for backing down after coming under pressure from Fifa, the English Football Association’s options were limited by concerns that the sporting sanctions for Harry Kane could have been worse than an instant booking if the captain had worn the armband against Iran. There were also fears that Gareth Southgate’s side could have been prevented from entering the field.

The FA’s worries were shared by the other six countries involved in the OneLove campaign after talks with world football’s governing body, with those close to the process left with the impression that “Fifa could do anything” to any captain who wore the armband in Qatar.

 The German federation has described Fifa’s behaviour as “extreme blackmail” and sources have indicated there was no clarity over whether the captains would merely receive a caution.

England, Wales, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark feared their captains could be banned. It was unclear whether any suspension would be limited to one match. None of the countries were prepared to put their players in that position. A source said that the captains would have risked “unlimited liability” if they had defied Fifa’s warnings.

Separately the FA was concerned that England’s game against Iran would not have started if Kane had tried to leave the dressing room with the armband. The FA is exploring if it will be legally possible to challenge the threat of sporting sanctions, and there has been fury within the seven associations about Fifa’s behaviour.  

Suggestions that Kane could have created an iconic moment by walking on to the pitch with the armband and receiving an instant booking are misplaced. The yellow card would have been shown in the dressing room, stripping away any potential symbolism.

Southgate, speaking before Friday’s game against the USA, was asked about the threat of sanctions for Kane. “I don’t know all the ins and outs because I wasn’t in the meeting but there was definitely a feel there were sanctions and not all of those were really clear, I think, so the decision was taken out of the hands of Harry,” England’s head coach said.

“The decision from the organisation was: ‘We’re not even putting the armband in the dressing room.’ There is no discussion. The player had no say.”

Germany’s players were praised for covering their mouth with their hands to suggest they had been gagged by Fifa before their game against Japan on Wednesday. Six players, including the captain, Manuel Neuer, also wore Adidas boots with rainbow stitching during the team’s shock 2-1 defeat against Japan, and the squad sported tops with rainbow colours on their sleeves in the warm-up.

Germany have faced no punishment from Fifa but Southgate questioned whether there would be any value in England mounting a similar form of protest on Friday.

Germany have faced no punishment from Fifa but Southgate questioned whether there would be any value in England mounting a similar form of protest on Friday.