A true Brit exemplifies true grit, it used to be said. That is no longer the case, at least not when it comes to showing the courage of one’s convictions on the field of play.
It is, of course, true that the demonstration of courage can take many forms. But as the ongoing football World Cup in Qatar has shown, it was when those who have everything to lose, the Iranian players, as opposed to those who conflate symbolism with substance, took the call not to sing their national anthem in support of widespread protests back home against the violent suppression of women’s rights as millions across the globe including their authoritarian government looked on, that true grit was on glorious display this Monday.
Heads held high but lips pursed as the Iranian anthem was played, the footballers ~ many of whom will perhaps not be able to return home and those who do will surely face action from the clerics who have the final say in Tehran ~ in that one act of Gandhian civil disobedience aimed at an uncivil regime’ misogynistic diktats did more to draw the attention of the world to the repression unleashed in their country than a dozen United Nations resolutions ever could.
Iran’s opponents in their opening World Cup fixture, England, on the other hand, cravenly surrendered to the order by FIFA, world football’s apex body which organizes the quadrennial tournament and is arguably only slightly less dictatorial than the Iranian government, to not to wear ‘OneLove’ armbands, a widely recognized form of support for LGBTQ rights.
Teams representing England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland announced on Monday that their respective captains won’t wear the OneLove rainbow armband to promote diversity and inclusion.
“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in a situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play,” the football associations of the seven European nations said in a joint statement.
Support for “inclusion” in other ways was forthcoming from the European players, some have argued, pointing to England captain Harry Kane taking the field against Iran sporting a black armband that read “No discrimination”.
While that may show that Kane’s heart is in the right place, what it expressly does not do is exhibit the grit which ought to have been on display by footballers representing these powerful European countries that have been at the forefront of slamming Qatar’s human rights record including the slave-like conditions of migrant workers and its stance on LGBTQ people (sex between men is punishable by up to seven years in prison). England won the Group B opener against Iran 6-2. But we all know which team was the real winner