America’s top diplomat criticizes FIFA armband threat at World Cup
DOHA, Qatar (AP) – America’s top diplomat on Tuesday criticized FIFA’s decision to threaten World Cup players with yellow cards if they wear armbands supporting inclusion and diversity.
Speaking alongside his Qatari counterpart at a press conference, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was “always troubling… when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression”.
“It’s especially so when it’s a term for diversity and inclusion,” Blinken said at the Diplomatic Club in Doha. “And in my judgment, at least no one on the football field should be forced to choose between upholding these values and playing for their team.”
Just a few hours before the first players with ribbons in support of the “One Love” campaign were to take the field on Monday. football’s governing body warned that they would be immediately shown yellow cards — two of which result in the player being banned from that game, as well as the next.
No players wore “One Love” armbands on Monday, although seven European teams said they planned to wear them ahead of the tournament.
England’s Harry Kane wore the FIFA “No Discrimination” armband that was offered as a compromise in the match against Iran. FIFA tried to counter the Europeans’ campaign with its own armbands with more generic slogans endorsed by some United Nations agencies.
Asked to respond to Blinken’s comments, FIFA referred to an earlier statement about allowing “No Discrimination” wristbands at the tournament as part of a compromise it had tried to reach with football associations.
Blinken arrived in Qatar on Monday, where he visited the youth soccer program related to the World Cup. He later watched the USA v Wales game on Monday night.
Although openly critical of FIFA, Blinken struck a more measured tone with Qatar. The energy-rich Middle Eastern country has been criticized ahead of the tournament for its treatment of migrant workers and the criminalization of gay and lesbian sex.
“We know that without workers, including many migrant workers, this World Cup simply wouldn’t be possible,” Blinken said. “Qatar has made significant strides in its labor laws in recent years to expand workers’ rights.”
However, he emphasized, adding: “Work is still being done on these issues, and the United States will continue to work with Qatar to strengthen labor rights and human rights more broadly long after the World Cup is over.”
Blinken spoke alongside Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani at a press conference. Asked by a Qatar-based journalist about “media attacks” on his country, Sheikh Mohammed dismissed them.
“Regarding the reforms of the State of Qatar, I think there were those who did not take that into account and relied on preconceived ideas,” he said. “Of course we cannot change the minds of those who only want to attack us or distort our image.”
Blinken’s visit comes as part of a strategic dialogue with Qatar, which also hosts about 8,000 US troops at its massive Al-Udeid Air Base, which serves as the forward headquarters for the US military’s Central Command. The base was a key node in America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 and the evacuation of Afghan civilians.
One of the main issues to discuss is Iran. Non-proliferation experts say Iran now has enough uranium enriched to 60% — a short step from weapons-grade — to reprocess it into fuel for nuclear weapons if it chooses to do so.
Tehran insists its program is peaceful, although it has expanded it dramatically since the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2015.
Meanwhile, Iran has been rocked by months of protests following the death in custody on September 16 of a 22-year-old woman who was arrested by the country’s morality police.
The government crackdown and violence surrounding the demonstrations have killed at least 434 people, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring the protests. Iran is also playing in the World Cup, and will face the USA on November 29.
“The world is rightly focused on what is happening inside Iran,” Blinken said. “The protests that followed the killing of Mahsa Amini was something that moved the world.”
Asked Fr the recent US decision to protect Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman regarding the lawsuit against him for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Blinken said the Biden administration will “simply follow the law” in terms of granting immunity to the head of state.
Blinken added that there are no plans for the crown prince to visit the US
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
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