Top US diplomat criticizes FIFA armband threat at World Cup

A top US diplomat on Tuesday criticized FIFA’s decision to threaten players with yellow cards at the World Cup if they wear armbands supporting inclusion and diversity.

Speaking to the Qatari counterpart at a press conference, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “is always concerned … when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression.”

“When expression is special for diversity and inclusion,” Blinken said at the Diplomatic Club in Doha. “And in my judgment, at least nobody on the football pitch should be forced to choose between upholding these values ​​and playing for their team.”

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

Just hours before the first players wearing armbands supporting the “One Love” campaign took to the field on Monday, soccer’s governing body warned they would immediately be shown yellow cards – including two ejections from that game and the next.

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No players were wearing “One Love” armbands on Monday, but seven European teams said they planned to wear them before the tournament. England’s Harry Kane wore the FIFA-sanctioned “No Discrimination” armband, which was given as a compromise in the match against Iran.

Blinken arrived in Qatar on Monday, where he visited a youth soccer program linked to the World Cup. He then watched the US tie with Wales on Monday night.

While openly critical of FIFA, Blinken struck a more measured tone with Qatar. The power-rich Middle Eastern nation 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 would not have been possible,” Blinken said. “Qatar has made meaningful strides in recent years with its labor laws to expand workers’ rights.”

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However, he made a point to add: “Real work remains on these issues, and the United States will continue to work with Qatar on strengthening labor rights and human rights more broadly after the World Cup is over.”

Blinken spoke at a news conference with Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

Blinken’s visit comes as part of a strategic dialogue with Qatar, which also hosts about 8,000 American troops at its massive Al-Udeid Air Base, which serves as the forward headquarters for the US military’s Central Command. The base will be a key factor in America’s chaotic 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan and the evacuation of Afghan civilians.

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An important topic to discuss is Iran. Non-proliferation experts say Iran has now enriched enough uranium to 60% – a small step from weapons-grade levels – to reprocess it into fuel for a nuclear weapon if it chooses to do so.

Tehran insists its program is peaceful, though it has expanded it sharply since the collapse of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Meanwhile, Iran is reeling from months of protests after the September 16 death of a 22-year-old woman who was previously arrested by the country’s morality police.

Authorities and violence surrounding the protests have killed at least 434 people, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that monitors the protests. Iran is also playing in the World Cup and will face the US on November 29.

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