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US Secretary Antony Blinken criticizes FIFA armband threat at World Cup

Restrictions on freedom of expression concerning, says Blinken
US Secretary Antony Blinken criticizes FIFA armband threat at World Cup
US Secretary Antony Blinken criticizes FIFA armband threat at World Cup

ITDC INDIA EPRESS/ ITDC NEWS 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 at a news conference, US 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 inclusion," Blinken said at Doha's Diplomatic Club.

"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," he said.

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.

No player wore the 'One Love' armbands Monday though seven European teams had said they planned to wear them ahead of the tournament.

England's Harry Kane wore a FIFA-approved 'No Discrimination' armband that was offered as a compromise in the match with Iran. FIFA has tried to counter the Europeans' campaign with its own armbands featuring more generic slogans backed by some United Nations agencies.

Asked to respond to Blinken's comments, FIFA referred to an earlier statement about allowing the "No Discrimination" armbands at the tournament, as part of a compromise it tried to strike with soccer federations.

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

While openly critical of FIFA, Blinken struck a more measured tone with Qatar. This energy-rich Mideast nation has been criticized ahead of the tournament over its treatment of migrant labourers and criminalizing gay and lesbian sex.

"We know that without workers, including many migrant workers, this World Cup simply would not have been possible," Blinken said. "Qatar has made meaningful strides in recent years to its labour laws to expand worker rights.

However, he added, "Real work remains on these issues and the United States will continue to work with Qatar on strengthening labour rights and human rights more broadly long after the World Cup is over.”

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