England, Wales and five other European nations feared their captains would face “unlimited liability” and would have faced suspension if they defied FIFA’s ban on the pro-diversity OneLove badge during the World Cup.
Despite facing criticism for backing down after coming under pressure from FIFA, the FA’s options were limited by concerns that sporting sanctions on Harry Kane could be worse than immediate booking if the captain wore the armband against Iran. There were also concerns that Gareth Southgate’s side could have been prevented from entering the field.
The FA’s concerns were shared by the other six nations involved in the OneLove campaign after talks with world football’s governing body, with those close to the process leaving the impression that “FIFA could do anything” for any captain wearing the armband in Qatar.
The DFB described FIFA’s behavior as “extreme extortion” and sources indicated it was not clear if the captains would only get a warning.
England, Wales, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, Germany and Denmark fear that the leaders of these forces may be banned. It was not clear if any suspension would be limited to one match. None of the countries were willing to put their players in that position. A source said the captains would have risked “unlimited liability” if they had defied FIFA’s warnings.
Separately, the FA were concerned that England’s match against Iran would not have started if Kane had tried to leave the dressing room with the captain’s armband. The FA is exploring whether the threat of sporting sanctions can be legally challenged, and there has been outrage within the seven federations over Fifa’s behaviour.
Suggestions that Kane could have created an iconic moment by walking onto the pitch with the armband and receiving the spot booking are misplaced. The yellow card would have appeared in the dressing room, removing any possible symbolism.
Southgate, who was speaking ahead of Friday’s game against the United States, was asked about the threat of sanctions against Kane. “I don’t know all the ins and outs because I wasn’t in the meeting but there was definitely a sense of penalties and not all of those were really obvious, I think, so the decision was taken out of Harry’s hands,” said the England coach.
“The decision from the organization was: ‘We don’t put the armband in the dressing room.’ There is no discussion. The player had no say.”
Germany’s players were praised for covering their mouths with their hands to indicate they were gagged by FIFA ahead of their match against Japan on Wednesday. Six players, including captain Manuel Neuer, also wore adidas shoes with rainbow stitching during the team’s shock 2-1 defeat by Japan, and the team wore rainbow jerseys on their sleeves in the warm-up period.
Germany faced no sanction from FIFA but Southgate questioned whether there would be any value in England staging a similar type of protest on Friday.
“I’m completely comfortable with our position and I think we have to be confident in what we stand for,” said Southgate. There was a plan – we couldn’t carry out that plan. What do we do now? Are we all trying to outdo each other in a nod that may not be enough, whatever we do.
“We want to support the LGBTQ community in particular and recognize that a lot of these people are not here with us, and we wanted them here with us. But we can also rush into doing things that don’t really make any difference.
“I understand that this will be uncomfortable for people because I may be criticized, the captain will be criticized, the organization will be criticized. I am very comfortable with what I do, and how I deal with people every day of my life is more important than a statement that may or may not be good.” .
Kane trained on Thursday and will start on Friday after an injury scare. And Southgate indicated that England, who will progress from Group Two with victory over the United States, will choose an unchanged team against Greg Berhalter’s side. James Madison is still recovering from a knee injury.
Harry Maguire, who has recovered from the dehydration that forced him out of the match against Iran, has opened up about the criticism he faced, likening it to the negativity aimed at his former Manchester United teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. “He’s one of the greatest players ever and he’s being criticized day in and day out,” he said. “So if this is going to happen to him, I think it’s an integral part of the game.”
Southgate revealed that Prince William has asked England players to block any social media distractions. “We couldn’t have paid him for better advice,” said Southgate.