Top US diplomat slams FIFA armband threat at World Cup

America’s top diplomat on Tuesday criticized FIFA’s decision to threaten players at the World Cup with yellow cards if they wear armbands that support integration and diversity.

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — America’s top diplomat on Tuesday criticized FIFA’s decision to threaten players at the World Cup with yellow cards if they wear armbands that support integration and diversity.

Speaking alongside his Qatari counterpart at a news conference, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said it was “always troubling… when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression”.

“This is especially true when it comes to diversity and integration,” Blinken said at the Doha Diplomatic Club. “And in my opinion, at least no one on the football field should be forced to choose between upholding those values ​​and playing for their team.”

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Blinken’s statement.

Hours before the first players wearing One Love armbands were due to take the field on Monday, the management of the football club warned that they will be shown yellow cards immediately — two of which result in the player being kicked out of that game, as well as the next.

No players were wearing ‘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-approved “No Discrimination” armband that was offered as a compromise against Iran.

Blinken arrived in Qatar on Monday, where he visited a youth soccer program tied to the World Cup. He later watched the USA play Wales on Monday night.

After openly criticizing FIFA, Blinken took a more measured approach to Qatar. The energy-rich Middle Eastern country has been criticized in the run-up to the tournament for its treatment of migrant workers and the criminalization of gays and lesbians.

“We know that without workers, including many migrant workers, this World Cup would simply not be possible,” said Blinken. “In recent years, Qatar has made significant strides in its labor laws to expand workers’ rights.”

Still, he noted, adding, “Real work remains on these issues, and the United States will continue to work with Qatar to strengthen labor rights and human rights more broadly after the World Cup.”

At the press conference, Blinken spoke together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

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 US Central Command. The base was a key hub in America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 and the evacuation of Afghan civilians.

One of the main issues for discussion is Iran. Non-proliferation experts say Iran now has enough uranium enriched to 60% — a small step from weapons-grade — to process into fuel for nuclear weapons if it chose to do so.

Tehran insists its program is peaceful, though it has expanded it dramatically since a nuclear deal with world powers collapsed in 2015.

Meanwhile, Iran has been rocked by months of protests following the September 16 death of a 22-year-old woman who was previously arrested by the country’s morality police.

A crackdown by authorities and violence surrounding the demonstrations has left at least 434 people dead, according to Iran Human Rights Watch, a group that monitors the protests. Iran is also playing in the World Cup and will face the USA on November 29.

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Follow John Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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