Just hours before kick off, England’s first game at the FIFA World Cup was already shrouded in controversy. Captain Harry Kane was due to wear a OneLove rainbow armband to show support for the LGBTQ+ community; a statement even more poignant due to the tournament being held in Qatar, a country which criminalises homosexuality. However, just hours before the match against Iran was due to start, the Football Association made a U-turn and declared Kane, along with Wales captain Gareth Bale and five other countries, would not be wearing the armband.
The decision to abandon the armband came after FIFA threatened to book any players who did wear it. A joint statement from seven football associations, including England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, outlined that they “can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings”. Despite informing FIFA of their wish to wear the armbands in September, the governing bodies explained they’d received no response. “We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband,” the statement continued. It later echoed a sentiment felt by millions of fans: “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented”.
Instead, former England player and football pundit Alex Scott made a powerful gesture by wearing the OneLove armband as she commentated from the side of the pitch. Heralded as brave by fans on social media, Scott’s decision to display the armband spoke volumes. As a woman, she is already in a more vulnerable position than her male colleagues, as women’s freedoms in Qatar are heavily restricted. Scott also identifies as queer, having recently opened up about her identity in her memoir, “How (Not) to be Strong”.
“Let’s hope in the next four years at the world cup we’re never having to have those conversations again.”
One tweet read, “Alex Scott proving she has more balls than England and all of the other teams who backtracked on their decision to wear a #OneLove armband, what a queen!” Another tweeted, “Equality is not an opinion, it’s a human right.”
Scott had been criticised for even attending the tournament in the first place, yet addressed her decision on the BBC during the opening game. “I love my job and when I think about it sitting here and having the harder conversations and it’s bigger isn’t it? We’re talking about migrant workers; we’re talking about the LGBT+ community we’re talking about women’s rights. Let’s hope in the next four years at the world cup we’re never having to have those conversations again.”
While Scott is not held to the same standards as the player and can’t be booked, taking a stand against discrimination of all kinds is so much bigger than football. That’s why Scott’s show of solidarity means she has already proved herself as our World Cup winner.