Surprising? No. Disappointing, nevertheless. But Fifa’s decision to disallow this gesture of LGBT support shows, more clearly than anything else, why it matters in the first place.
Top tier football, clear even to the new follower, has long operated in a universe dictated more by money than by morals. Well-intentioned individuals within the system – those footballers who know they are taking part in a tournament hosted by a retrogressive, punishing regime and are keen to do, at the least, a little mitigating PR – are switched on to LGBT rights in a way that marks a promising shift and something hopeful to build on.
The UK Government, meanwhile, have already lolloped off to their next great screw-over of the Great British public, having considered the matter done when Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said last month that gay football fans should simply “compromise” when in Qatar, the country that would see them put to death. British LGBT travellers, already conscious of guarding their safety, learned nothing helpful from these comments other than how gelatinous and quivering the spine of this government is.
This is today’s England on the world stage. Adrift from principle. Uncertain of purpose and power. Directed by money men intent on enriching themselves further.
Kept tended by our uninspiring politics is the belief that one person alone cannot make meaningful change. Corruption is happy to keep its opposition fatigued so that we might sit and stew individually instead of coming together in force.
Inevitably, here come shrugs of what difference would an armband have made, anyway? It’s easy to feel fatigued by fundraising drives disguised as softer sounding ‘awareness campaigns’ for causes we’re already well aware of.
But in this context, acceptance is the goal, and influential high-profile footballers have a starring role to play. Think of the gay football fan unable to freely discuss their sexuality taking confidence from a show of support on the pitch. Think of the slow, hard work that has gone into making it easier for players to come out – and how much is still to be done.
An armband won’t change laws overnight, but a confidently, unequivocally stated belief in equality encourages acceptance and empathy in others. Any football attendee who has done a Mexican wave knows one person standing up can have an epic ripple effect.
Although England won their first game against Iran on Monday, and are tipped to do well, any victory at this murky World Cup is a hollow one. Marvels of world-class sportsmanship can not mend the broken backs of the migrant workers who laid these pitches and built these stadiums, thousands of whom lost their lives in the process.
At Qatar 2022, the beautiful game has been stripped of both beauty and bravery. On that armband Team England failed to wear is a whole rainbow spectrum of colours. Contemporary football looks only from the green of the pitch to the green of the dollar and back again.