World Cup 'the most political sporting event I have been to'

Published on: 24 November 2022

Fifa World CupHost nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listings - Full coverage details

The Qatar World Cup is "the most political major sporting event I have ever been to", says the head of European football anti-discriminatory body Fare.

England, Wales and five other European nations dropped plans to wear the OneLove armband because of Fifa's threat of players being booked.

Wales fans said they were told to remove rainbow bucket hats, while Iran declined to sing their national anthem in an apparent expression of support for anti-government protests back home.

Before the tournament Qatar was criticised for its stance on same-sex relationships, its human rights record and its treatment of migrant workers.

"I have never seen anything like this," Fare executive director Piara Powar told BBC sports editor Dan Roan.

    Why is the Qatar World Cup controversial?'People say we don't have backbone' - Van Dijk on OneLove armband row

The captains of seven countries - England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland - planned to wear the OneLove armband during matches to promote diversity and inclusion.

There have also been issues when it comes to people wearing rainbow colours, which show support for the LGBTQ+ community, at games in Qatar.

Former Wales football captain Laura McAllister, a gay woman and past Fifa Council candidate, said she was told she could not wear her "rainbow wall" bucket hat for her country's World Cup opener against the USA.

Laura McAllister said it was important to confront a lack of tolerance

An American journalist, Grant Wahl, said he was stopped for half an hour by security for wearing a rainbow-themed T-shirt, although he later said he was allowed to enter the stadium perimeter.

"It is a very confused picture," said Powar. "In the end, what is happening now is a struggle for security control of the stadiums.

"We know that when the Fifa security people see a rainbow flag or rainbow paraphernalia being presented at security, they will wave it through. For them, it is acceptable - their rules allow for that.

"When it is the police or the other security services, they turn those individuals away."

The sale of alcohol "in select areas" at the World Cup's eight stadiums was also stopped as Fifa changed its policy two days before the start of the tournament.

BBC Analysis editor Ros Atkins looks at the controversies around the Qatar World Cup

Powar said: "It is difficult to read what is going on at Fifa. Some of the messaging, at best, has been clumsy - it has been following the Qatari line.

"I can only guess that Fifa feel they must now fully rely on delivering the tournament within the expectations of the Qataris, not by the expectations of human rights activists or human rights standards.

"That is the point that needs to change for the future. Fifa needs to do much more thinking about the relevance of human rights and we all then need to be much clearer, much earlier about our expectations.

"We cannot have international sporting events of this kind that are not held to international human rights standards.

"Athletes are very clear that they want their values to be expressed and they want issues that are dear to them to be addressed.

"In general terms, we can no longer pretend that human rights and sport are not linked in some way."

Australia sports minister Anika Wells said Western countries should "do more to acknowledge" the "progress" that Qatar has made on workers' rights.

She added: "If you look at what's happened in Qatar, some of the labour laws they have now passed are region-leading with respect to workers' rights and, from Western democracies that want workers' rights improved, that's a great thing."

Before the opening Group B game against England, some Iran fans shouted and jeered during the national anthem and others held up signs saying "Woman, Life, Freedom".

Iran state TV cut its coverage of the anthem and switched to a previously shown wide shot of the stadium.

Mass protests have been met with a fierce crackdown in recent months.

"The Iranians made the strongest gesture possible," said Powar.

"If this was any other World Cup, without the political background, with the gesture the Iranians made we would have still been talking about that two weeks into the tournament.

"It's a fundamental, incredibly moving thing they have done."

    Fifa World Cup: Groups & ScheduleWorld Cup TV Coverage guide

Get the latest results and goal notifications for any team at the Fifa World Cup by downloading the BBC Sport app: Appleexternal-link - Androidexternal-link - Amazonexternal-link

Get your daily dose of Fifa World Cup reaction, debate & analysis with World Cup Daily on BBC Sounds