Top US diplomat slams FIFA armband threat at World Cup

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

Speaking alongside his Qatari counterpart at a press conference, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was “always concerning … when we see restrictions on free speech”.

“This is especially the case when the phrase is synonymous with diversity and inclusion,” Blinken told the Doha Diplomatic Club. “And in my opinion, at least no one on a football pitch should have to choose between supporting those values ​​and playing for their team.”

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

Just hours before the first players with the armbands in support of the ‘One Love’ campaign would take to the pitch on Monday, football’s governing body warned they would immediately be shown yellow cards – including two lead to the expulsion of a player from this game and also the next one.

No player wore the “One Love” armbands on Monday, although seven European teams said they planned to wear them ahead of the tournament. England’s Harry Kane wore a FIFA-approved ‘No Discrimination’ armband which was offered as a compromise during the game against Iran.

Blinken arrived in Qatar on Monday, where he visited a youth football program linked to the World Cup. He then watched the United States’ encounter with Wales on Monday night.

While openly critical of FIFA, Blinken adopted a more measured tone with Qatar. The energy-rich Middle Eastern nation was criticized ahead of the tournament for its treatment of migrant workers and the criminalization of gay and lesbian sex.

“We know that without the workers, including many migrant workers, this World Cup simply wouldn’t have been possible,” Blinken said. “Qatar has made significant progress in recent years in its labor legislation to expand workers’ rights.”

However, he was keen to add: “The real work remains on these issues, and the United States will continue to work with Qatar to strengthen labor rights and human rights more broadly long after the Cup ends. of the world.”

Blinken spoke alongside Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani at the press conference. Asked by a journalist based in Qatar about the “media attacks” against his country, Sheikh Mohammed dismissed them.

“As far as the reforms of the state of Qatar are concerned, I think that some have not taken this into consideration and have relied on preconceived ideas,” he said. “Of course, we cannot change the opinion of those who just want to attack us or distort our image.”

Blinken’s visit is part of a strategic dialogue with Qatar, which also hosts some 8,000 U.S. troops at its massive Al-Udeid air base, which serves as the forward headquarters of NATO’s central command. US army. The base was a key node in America’s chaotic 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan and the evacuation of Afghan civilians.

One of the main topics to be discussed is Iran. Non-proliferation experts say Iran now has enough uranium enriched up to 60% – a small step from weapons-grade levels – to reprocess it into fuel for a nuclear weapon if it chooses to do.

Tehran insists its program is peaceful, although it has expanded it considerably since the collapse of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Meanwhile, Iran is rocked by months-long protests following the September 16 death in custody of a 22-year-old woman arrested by the country’s vice squad.

The authorities’ crackdown 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 participating in the World Cup and will face the United States on November 29.

“The world is rightly focused on what’s going on inside Iran,” Blinken said. “The protests that have erupted since the murder of Mahsa Amini is something that has galvanized the world.”

Asked about the recent US decision to shield Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman from the trial against him for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Blinken said the Biden administration would “just follow the law” in terms of granting immunity to a head of state.

Blinken added that the crown prince was not expected to travel to the United States

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.


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