Players should ‘respect football’ by not protesting

DOHA, Qatar — FIFA president Gianni Infantino has said players should “respect football” and not protest on the pitch because fans want to forget their problems during matches.

Multiple human rights groups have expressed concerns about the treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ people in Qatar, leading to participating teams facing increased pressure to use their voice to highlight issues of discrimination and abuse.

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Seven countries competing in Qatar committed to wearing a ‘OneLove’ armband but backed down at the last minute after FIFA threatened the captains with on-field sanctions that included a yellow card at kickoff.

Germany’s players covered their mouths during a team photo ahead of their group stage match against Japan, and England took a knee before all five of their matches, although that was an anti-discrimination gesture not specifically introduced in relation to issues in Qatar.

Speaking at his closing World Cup news conference on Friday, Infantino said: “As FIFA we have to take care of everyone. We are a global organisation, we do not have to discriminate anyone based on whatever legislation, whatever regime, whatever values and feelings they have.

“It’s not about prohibiting or not prohibiting. It’s about respecting regulations; we have regulations which say on the field of play, you play football, and that’s what we did.

“Everyone is free to express his views, his opinion, his beliefs, the way he believes, as long as it’s done in a respectful way.

“When it comes to the pitch, to the field of play, you need to respect football, you need to respect the field of play, and these regulations are exactly there for this reason. This is nothing new; they are there for this reason to respect and to protect the 211 football teams, not 211 heads of states, regimes, or what have you.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said footballers should not protest as fans want to forget their problems during matches. Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

“It is 211 football teams and their fans who want to come and enjoy football, and this is what we are here for, and honestly, I believe that we are defending values, we are defending human rights, we are defending the rights of everyone in FIFA, in the World Cup.

“But I also believe that those fans who come to the stadium — those 80,000, 70,000, 90,000 and all those billions of fans who are watching the World Cup on TV, maybe — we should think about that — and I say this candidly really to everyone: everyone has their own problems.

“They just want to spend 90 minutes or now 100 minutes or 105 minutes or whatever without having to think about anything else than just enjoying a little moment of pleasure and joy or at least emotion.

“That’s what we have to do. We have to give to all these people a moment of time in their life where they can forget about their own problems and enjoy football.

“Between and after competitions, during competitions outside of the match in the field of play, well, everyone can express his views and opinions the way he wants. But let’s give this moment of joy to those who want to enjoy the game.”

Infantino hailed Qatar’s staging of the event as “the best World Cup ever” — just as he had proclaimed four years ago in Russia.

“The World Cup has been an incredible success on all fronts,” Infantino added. “The main one being the fans, the behaviour, the joyful atmosphere, the bringing of people together. The fans meeting the Arab world, it has been very important for the future of all of us.”