World Cup organizers on Monday threatened to issue a yellow card to any player who wears a rainbow-colored armband at the World Cup, escalating a fight that had begun as a show of support for gay rights but has instead morphed into a showdown between world soccer’s governing body and a handful of European nations.
Harry Kane, the England captain, had been expected to be the first player to take the field in a multicolored armband emblazoned with the words “One Love” during World Cup matches when England played Iran in its opening game; instead, Kane took the field in a blue armband bearing the FIFA-approved phrase “No discrimination.”
The armbands, which featured a heart and rainbow colors similar to the more widely known pride flag, were designed to show support for minority groups amid ongoing concerns about treatment of L.G.B.T.Q. people in Qatar, where homosexuality is a crime. A group of European soccer federations had joined forces and planned to defy the strict uniform rules of FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, and wear them anyway.
On Monday morning, however, the teams said that FIFA’s threats of discipline now made that impossible.
In tense discussions over the weekend, the teams had appeared willing to accept a fine for the uniform violation. But by Monday they faced a new dilemma: According to a statement released by seven European teams, including England, FIFA has now threatened to issue a yellow card to any player who takes the field wearing the unsanctioned armband.
Starting a game on a yellow card puts a player at risk. If that player were to receive a second yellow during the match, it would result in ejection; players can compete with one yellow, but two leads to a red card — and immediate dismissal and suspension for the next game.
As a result, the teams said, they had little choice but to ask their players not to risk punishment.
“FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play,” the group of seven teams said in a joint statement. “As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games.
“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.”
The statement was issued jointly by the soccer federations of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
“We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented,” the federations said.
The first armbands had been expected to appear at the World Cup in several matches on Monday: the Netherlands and Wales, who also play their first matches, had joined England among the group of nations ready to buck FIFA. Now that seems unlikely.