Vertonghen bemused by banning of OneLove armband: ´I´m afraid to say anything´

November 22, 2022


Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen was bemused by FIFA’s decision to ban several European teams from wearing the OneLove armband – an anti-discriminatory symbol – at the World Cup.

The OneLove campaign, which promotes “inclusion and sends a message against discrimination of any kind”, had grown in significance ahead of the tournament in Qatar, partly due to the country’s criminalisation of homosexuality.

Belgium were one of seven European teams to back the initiative, which involved captains wearing a special OneLove armband that features a multi-coloured heart.

But after discussions between FIFA and an alliance of football associations – England, Wales, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands – a joint statement was released on Monday confirming all teams had pulled out due to the governing body’s threat to book players wearing the armband.

FIFA has received widespread criticism as a result of their stance, while the countries in question have attracted flak for wilting under pressure.

Vertonghen seemed perplexed by FIFA opposing messages of solidarity.

Speaking ahead of Belgium’s Group F opener against Canada on Wednesday, Vertonghen said: “It’s a tough question. If it’s too late [to make a statement against discrimination], I don’t know. If you make a statement now by wearing it, that would mean punishing yourself.

“But now I’m afraid to say anything. I don’t feel comfortable saying anything, and that’s telling enough, that we are put under pressure.

“That’s a regrettable situation that I’ve never experienced in football and I hope I won’t experience again.

“We are being controlled and I don’t really like making political statements anyway, but if you can’t even wear a captain’s armband with normal messages like ‘no to racism’, or ‘no to discrimination’, then hey, then what [can you say]?

“I shouldn’t be saying anything about it because tomorrow I want to appear at the game. It’s a pity that we have been put in this situation, and I want to leave it at that.”

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez was also asked about the ban of the OneLove armband, and while he did not offer an opinion on it, he emphasised the work his team have put in familiarising themselves with the controversies surrounding Qatar’s hosting of the tournament.

“As a federation and group we’ve been proactive for last two years, it’s not a case of arriving and then catching up on what’s happening. We respected everyone’s views, worked together with professionals who knew the situations,” Martinez said.

“Yesterday there was a clear statement by the federations, and at this point we just want to talk about football, we’re desperate to be on the pitch.

“We just want to create a wonderful story, story of a lifetime. That’s the only thing we want to be focusing on now.”