Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized the decision by International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) to threaten players with yellow cards if they chose to wear “One Love” armbands during play at the World Cup in Qatar.
Speaking alongside his Qatari counterpart at a news conference at Doha’s Diplomatic Club, Blinken said it’s “always concerning…when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression,” adding that it’s “especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion. 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.”
The “One Love” campaign promotes inclusion and diversity in soccer and society. Several European teams on Monday backed down from wearing the armbands just hours before they took the pitch after FIFA threatened automatic yellow cards—warnings against a penalty that could determine the outcome of a match.
The standoff was the latest dispute threatening to overshadow play at the international soccer event. Since being named to host the World Cup back in 2010, conservative Muslim Qatar been criticized and faced calls for boycotts over its treatment of low-paid migrant workers as well as its criminalization of homosexuality.
The armband dustup came three days after beer sales were suddenly banned at stadiums, and two days after FIFA’s president was slammed by critics for defending Qatar’s human rights record.
Blinken’s visit comes as part of a strategic dialogue with Qatar, which hosts some 8,000 American troops at its Al-Udeid Air Base. The base serves as the forward HQ for the U.S. military’s Central Command.