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World Cup

Bowing to FIFA, seven World Cup teams ask captains not to wear OneLove armbands

England's Harry Kane gestures wearing a FIFA-approved black armband with a sign "No discrimination" during a match with Iran in Doha, Qatar.Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

Soccer teams representing seven European nations at the World Cup announced Monday that their captains won’t wear LGBTQ armbands in Qatar after FIFA, which organizes the tournament, said players sporting the bands would be penalized.

The captains of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland had intended to wear the OneLove rainbow armbands to promote diversity and inclusion at the World Cup.

“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 soccer associations said in a joint statement.

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Three of the teams — England, Wales, and the Netherlands — played Monday.

“We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented,” the teams added, promising to show support for “inclusion” in other ways. “As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions, including bookings.”

Qatar has come under scrutiny in the lead up to the tournament over its approach to human rights, including concerns over the conditions of migrant workers and the conservative Persian Gulf state’s stance on LGBTQ issues. Sex between men is prohibited in Qatar and punishable by up to seven years in prison, according to a recent US State Department report.

Grant Wahl, an American soccer writer, said he was stopped by a security guard Monday at the US-Wales game for wearing a shirt with a rainbow on it. Wahl later said he was detained for a half-hour in an “unnecessary ordeal” but ultimately allowed into the stadium.

Peter Bossaert, CEO of the Belgian Football Association, told local media Monday that the national team had been forced by FIFA to remove the word “Love” from its away kit — even though it was fastened to the inside of the shirt.

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“The word LOVE must disappear,” Bossaert told Belgian reporters.

“It’s sad,” he said. “But FIFA leaves us no choice.”

The OneLove campaign was conceived by the Dutch soccer team, and at first 10 European teams signed up for it in September. They agreed that their captains would wear a rainbow armband to send a message against discrimination and promote inclusion.

The Dutch were the first to announce publicly that captain Virgil van Dijk would not wear the armband.

“Hours before the first game, it has been made clear to us from FIFA [officially] that the captain will receive a yellow card if he wears the ‘OneLove’ captain’s armband,” the KNVB, the country’s football association, said in a statement. “We deeply regret that it was not possible to reach a reasonable solution together.

“We stand for the ‘OneLove’ message and will continue to spread it, but our No. 1 priority at the World Cup is to win the games. You don’t want the captain to start the match with a yellow card. That is why it is with a heavy heart that we as a UEFA working group, KNVB and as a team had to decide to abandon our plan.”

Penalizing team captains before the games begin would impose a competitive disadvantage from the outset, with a second yellow card during a match bringing ejection.

While the basis of any possible FIFA sanctions against players has not been made public, according to Article 4.3 of the FIFA equipment regulations, no items of clothing or equipment can be worn if they are considered “dangerous, offensive, or indecent” or include “political, religious, or personal slogans.”

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FIFA has proposed that national captains wear armbands from its separate “No Discrimination” campaign that it had planned to begin with the quarterfinals.

In a separate statement Monday, the global soccer organization said it had brought forward the beginning of its No Discrimination campaign to allow all 32 national captains to wear that armband throughout the entire tournament.

“FIFA is an inclusive organization that wants to put football to the benefit of society by supporting good and legitimate causes, but it has to be done within the framework of the competition regulations which are known to everyone,” the statement said.

The Football Association of Wales expressed frustration and disappointment in a statement, but added, “We remain with the belief that football is for everyone and stand with our LGBTQ+ members of the Welsh football family. Football for everyone.”

England routs Iran

When Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford last walked off the field at a major international soccer tournament, they were bombarded with racist abuse.

Three goals for England in the team’s opening match was their immediate riposte.

Saka scored two before giving way to Rashford, who added another in the second half of England’s 6-2 rout of Iran in Doha. England will next face the United States on Friday, while Iran will take on Wales.

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The jubilant scene at the Khalifa International Stadium was in contrast to the tears shed following England’s penalty shootout loss to Italy in last year’s European Championship final. Saka and Rashford both failed to convert from the spot and were targeted on social media.

“It is a moment that has been with me and will be with me forever,” said Saka, who was only 19 during Euro 2020. “But I am so blessed and so grateful to have the coaching staff, not only here with the team at England, but also at Arsenal.

“My friends and my family put their arm around me along with my teammates and the nation supported me to help me get back to a good place. I feel that love from everyone around me.”

The win also provides encouragement for coach Gareth Southgate, who has faced the most troubled period of his England tenure over the last year. In a difficult build-up to the tournament in Qatar, he was booed after a 4-0 loss to Hungary in June and was humiliated by his own fans when they chanted, “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Hundreds of fans missed the start of Monday’s match because of an issue with digital tickets. When they eventually made their way to their seats, they witnessed an utterly dominant display from England.

Jude Bellingham’s first international goal opened the scoring in the 35th minute.

Saka then got his first of the match in the 43rd and Raheem Sterling added another in first-half stoppage time. Saka scored his second shortly after the hour, but Mehdi Taremi pulled one back for Iran in the 65th minute.

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Rashford struck six minutes later to extend England’s lead to 5-1, and Jack Grealish also stepped off the bench to score a sixth in the 90th. Taremi added another for Iran from the penalty spot deep in stoppage time after John Stones was penalized for holding Morteza Pouraliganji’s shirt in the box.

The game was delayed for several minutes in the first half when Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand clashed heads with a teammate. He was eventually taken off the field on a stretcher with the score still 0-0.

The match had a total of 29 minutes of stoppage time, 15 minutes in the first half.

Before the match, members of Iran’s team refused to sing their national anthem, a gesture widely seen as a pledge of support for anti-government protests back home.

The squad, known as Team Melli, has been at the center of criticism and controversy over participation in the tournament and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had earlier warned athletes not to “disrespect” the country.

The team remained silent throughout the playing of Iran’s national anthem. During the match, fans could at times be heard shouting, “Shameless! Shameless!” in Persian at the players.

Iran’s players have been caught between officials who want them to show loyalty to the country’s embattled Islamic establishment and the team’s mainly young fans who have urged the players to show solidarity with the protests over the death of Mahsa Amini — a 22-year-old woman who died in police custody in Tehran in September after allegedly violating Islamic dress codes.

After the match, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz pleaded with fans to support the team amid the protests.

“All the Iranians in the stadium are welcome, and feel free to criticize,” he said. “Those who come to disturb the team with issues that are not only about football opinions are not welcome. They are just simple football boys. They have one dream, to play football. It is not their fault that the World Cup happens at the moment. The moral is: Let the kids play the game. They want to represent the country, represent the people.”

Coaching hunches pay off with win for the Netherlands

Coach Louis van Gaal’s gambles at both ends of the field paid off for the Netherlands.

Up front, Memphis Depay returned from injury as a second-half substitute to help spark the attack into life as the Netherlands scored two late goals to beat Senegal, 2-0, in Doha.

At the back, Netherlands goalkeeper Andries Noppert pulled off three key saves to keep the African champions at bay after Van Gaal decided to give him his international debut in a key World Cup game and just two months after he was called into the national squad for the first time.

“His quality is he can stop balls and he did that three times today,” the Netherlands coach said, “and he did it perfectly.”

Cody Gakpo and substitute Davy Klaasen provided late goals to ensure the Dutch team’s winning start at its first World Cup appearance since 2014, when Van Gaal was also coach.

Gakpo rose to glance a header in from a cross by Frenkie de Jong in the 84th minute with the team’s first effort on target. Klaasen added a second right at the end of eight minutes of stoppage time by slotting in after Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy only weakly blocked a shot from Depay.

The orange-shirted Dutch fans had been subdued until the late strikes as Senegal was the more energetic team. The Senegalese drums and chants were the dominant sound from the stands for much of the game. But Senegal’s main problem was predictable: Without injured forward Sadio Mane, it couldn’t convert any of its chances.

“I think we gave everything and I think we deserved at least a point from this game,” Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said. “But, of course, Sadio being missing is a problem for us.”

Depay, who has only just recovered from a hamstring injury, was put on by Van Gaal with about 30 minutes to go after the veteran coach said the day before that he wasn’t sure if the Barcelona forward was ready for action.

He decided to see if he was and Depay responded by playing parts in both goals.

First, he linked up with De Jong near the edge of the area before the midfielder crossed to Gakpo for the first goal. Depay’s run and shot deep in injury time led to the second goal for Klaasen — one of four substitutes in the match. It sealed a Dutch victory and a 16th game unbeaten for the Netherlands since the 71-year-old Van Gaal, the oldest coach at the World Cup, returned from retirement last year to lead his country for a third time.

The substitutions provided “the breakthrough,” Van Gaal said. “Memphis was a big part of that.”