Protests Shadow Over 2022 Men’s World Cup

All throughout the 2022 Qatar Men’s World Cup we have seen many different acts of protest and awareness raised about global issues.

German Team

One example of this was the German team whose players covered their mouths with their hands during their team photo before their opening Match of the World Cup. They said they did this as a form of protest after FIFA’s announcement that wearing the OneLove armbands would result in a yellow card. The OneLove armband was set to be worn by the captains of 7 European Nations during the World Cup. They were going to wear the rainbow armband to send a message of LGBTQ+ inclusion and diversity as the the host country of the World Cup (Qatar) makes homosexuality a criminal offense. Qatar has been under scrutiny for their human rights record and criminalizing homosexuality. After FIFA announced penalties for players wearing the OneLove armband the European Nations backed down on that effort. German head coach Hansi Flick and German Soccer Federation President Bernd Neuendorf both criticized FIFA’s decision. Along with this the German Football Federation (DFB) announced on twitter shortly after the game through a series of tweets that “It wasn’t about making a political statement – human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted, but it still isn’t the case. That’s why this message is so important to us. “Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice,’ they “We stand by our position.”

The German team covered their mouths in their team photo as a protest. (Matthew Ashton)

Nancy Faeser, the German Interior Minister who also is in charge of sports wore the OneLove armband in the stands as she sat next to FIFA’s President (Gianni Infantino) during the match vs Japan. She tweeted a picture of herself with the caption #OneLove said that “such symbols should be openly shown.”

Another prominent figure also wore the armband during the Men’s World Cup. Alex Scott, a former defender for the England Women’s National Team wore the OneLove armband. She wore it on air while she presented coverage of the tournament for BBC during the England vs Iran game. She received many positive comments while wearing the band while presenting the match.

Alex Scott wears the OneLove armband during a BBC broadcast. (Manchester Evening News)


The Iranian team also decided to protest during this year’s World Cup. During their first match versus England many of the players decided not to sing their team’s national anthem as a show of support for the protests that have rocked the nation since the death of 22 year-old Mahsa Amini. 

Mahsa Amini died in police custody after being arrested for an “improper hijab” that made some of her hair visible which breached the government dress code. Many called this the final straw, after the regime has continued to squash human rights and harass women. The next day protesters flocked to the streets with the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom”. Police forces used violence to try and subdue the protests, killing 437 protestors.

After the refusal of the team to sing the national anthem, it is reported that the players were called to meet with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. There, players were threatened tat them and their families would be tortured if they did not sing the anthem at the next game or if they joined any political protests against the regime.

The Iranian players stayed silent during their anthem as a show of support for protestors. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The Iranian team is appearing while their country faces deep domestic turmoil. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Chief, Volker Turk said that Iran is in a “full-fledged human rights crisis”. Adding to buzz about the Iranian team, they also called out for the US to be kicked out after the US Soccer Federation changed the Iranian flag in one of their social media posts.

The US Soccer Federation posted a graphic on their official Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts of the Group B standings. On this graphic they displayed the Iranian flag without the emblem of the Islamic Republic.

US Soccer told CNN that it changed the flag for 24 hours to show “support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights”. They said this “was a one-time graphic” and they always planned to go back to the original flag and that they still had the main flag on their website and other places.

Iran state media responded to these posts with demands that the US team should be kicked out of the World Cup and suspended for 10 days. 

Iran state-aliged new agency Tasnim wrote on twitter that, “By posting a distorted image of the flag of the Islamic Republic of #Iran on its official account, the #US football team breached the @FIFAcom charter, for which a 10-game suspension is the appropriate penalty” “Team #USA should be kicked out of the #WorldCup2022.”

This came before the USA vs Iran match on Tuesday November 29th. On the day before the match USA coach Gregg Berhalter said the team “had no idea what US Soccer put out” and that their focus was on the match.

The graphic posted by U.S. soccer where they displayed the Iranian flag without the emblem of the Islamic Republic.

U.S. & Wales

Finally, Both the U.S. and Wales teams displayed rainbows at their respective training camps. The Welsh team displayed rainbow flags and the American team displayed a rainbow colored version of their logo in their media room. 

Welsh team captain Gareth Bale was set on wearing the OneLove armband until FIFA announced a yellow card penalty. Wales prominently displayed the rainbow flag at their training camp in Qatar to send a message of defiance to the World Cup organizers. Football Association of Wales chief Noel Mooney also criticized FIFA for prohibiting Welsh fans with rainbow bucket hats inside the match. One of these fans was former Wales captain Laura McAllister, who tried to enter the Wales vs. USA match wearing a rainbow bucket hat. She said that security was intimidating and she received messages from many others saying they were told to take rainbow shoelaces, bucket hats and wristbands off. After the incident she said that “We were told this was going to be a really inclusive, welcoming, warm World Cup. That is not what I have seen, I have to say.” “To have our fans having their bucket hats taken off them is just appalling. We are seeking clarifications on that.”

The US team displayed a rainbow version of their logo in their media room and around their training facilities. These symbols are a part of the team’s inclusion campaign, “Be the Change” which is meant to show that “every person in the United States and across the world has the ability, opportunity and responsibility to make a difference in their community and in their own way”.

The USMNT displayed a rainbow version of their crest at their training facility and media room in Qatar.

Pitch Invader

During Portugal vs. Uruguay match on November 28th a pitch invader ran across the field waving a rainbow flag. This incident occurred during the 51st minute of the game, and although it was avoided being shown on FIFA broadcasts, but many individuals still saw the invader as they were chased by security officials. Getty photos showed that the carrier of the flag was wearing a shirt with “RESPECT FOR IRANIAN WOMAN” written on the back and “SAVE UKRAINE” writing on the front. 

The pitch invader self identified as Italian Mario Ferri, and later posted on his Instagram story that “I will call it ‘the last dance.’ My last run in a playground, I wanted to send important messages for me that I have experienced on my skin in the past months,”. He also added that “Breaking the rules if you do it for a good cause is NEVER A CRIME”. Mario Ferri is banned from attending any more matches at the tournament.

In conclusion, many different teams and supporters showed different forms of protest so far during this year’s Men’s World Cup in Qatar. Many of these protests were to show defiance against FIFA’s announcement of penalties for wearing the OneLove armband and others were to show support for things happening in their home countries.

A pitch invader ran across the field during one of the World Cup matches. (Abbie Parr/AP)