Top US diplomat criticizes FIFA armband threat at World Cup

Sports

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

Speaking alongside his Qatari counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was “always concerning … when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression.”

“It’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion,” Blinken said in Doha. “And in my judgment, at least no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team.”

FIFA could not be immediately reached for comment to respond to his remarks.

Just hours before the first players with the armbands in support of the “One Love” campaign were to take the field on Monday, soccer’s governing body warned they would immediately be shown yellow cards — two of which lead to a player’s expulsion from that game and also the next.

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

Blinken spoke alongside Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, at the news conference.

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

One major issue to discuss is Iran. Nonproliferation experts say Iran now has enough uranium enriched up to 60% — a short step from weapons-grade levels — to reprocess into fuel for a nuclear weapon if it chooses to do so.

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

Meanwhile, Iran is being rocked by monthslong protests following the Sept. 16 death of a 22-year-old woman who had been earlier arrested by the country’s morality police.

A crackdown by authorities and violence surrounding the demonstrations have killed at least 434 people, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that’s been monitoring the protests. Iran is playing at the World Cup as well, and will face the U.S. on Nov. 29.

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