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Armband politics at the World Cup

Why is there a double standard for athletes and their causes?


British Sport Minister Stuart Andrew wears a "One Love" armband as he sings a national anthem prior to a World Cup match on Nov. 29. Associated Press/Photo by Frank Augstein

Armband politics at the World Cup
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Just think of recent headlines: Pro-democracy protests in Iran. China’s COVID crackdowns and Uighur concentration camps. The horrific war in Ukraine. Ethnic cleansing in Burma. So, when Western European soccer (football) teams wanted to wear an armband showing solidarity with the oppressed while competing at the World Cup, wouldn’t you imagine it to be blue and yellow (Ukraine) or somehow demonstrate support for those being imprisoned, beaten, and murdered in one of these conflicts? No. Controversially, it was to be a rainbow “One Love” armband.

The “One Love” armband was to be worn by the team captains of England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and Wales as a way to “promote inclusion and display solidarity with people of different genders and sexual identities,” according to a CNN report. Previously these armbands were worn by team captains during UEFA Nations League games.

Sensing a brouhaha, the World Cup governing body, FIFA, did not allow the armbands to be worn by the captains without a penalty. Instead, politicians from England and Germany prominently displayed the armbands from the stands.

World Cup host Qatar, and many of its conservative Muslim-majority neighbors, have different laws and customs than most liberal Western societies when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity. But this World Cup political activism is not really about persuading the Qataris and others to consider changing their laws. If it were, these team captains would have written letters, visited Qatar before the World Cup, met with dissidents in neutral venues outside of Qatar, or perhaps even boycotted the event.

Ironically, we’ve been told in the past that athletes such as Tim Tebow, an evangelical Christian, should keep quiet about their views on marriage and sexuality, on or off the field, and not to foist their views on others.

But this is not just about a double standard. This is a form of mass propagandizing.

The relentless drumbeat of the new sexual orientation/gender ideology never stops because the purpose is to neutralize those with other views.

Many Western youth, from young professional athletes to students and children, are bombarded constantly with anti-Christian, anti-faith, anti-nuclear family, anti-traditional sexuality, anti-reality messaging. One reality that they do painfully recognize is that over half of marriages in America, including Christian marriages, end in divorce.

Their phones, videos, and movies are besieged with the glorification of sexual gluttony and a simultaneous championing of expressive individualism. In sum, our children and rising adults are wooed incessantly by societal voices, from Disney to the most outrageous and explicit online platforms. The message of the day is that “love is love” and “love triumphs.”

If “One Love” was just about living out the Golden Rule’s type of neighbor love, then there would be no need for the shock-jock campaign of rainbow armbands. The relentless drumbeat of the new sexual orientation/gender ideology never stops because the purpose is to neutralize those with other views.

That is why recent U.S. legislation, including the misnamed Equality Act and the original framing of the so-called Respect for Marriage Act, explicitly left out religious freedom protections. More egregiously, the original forms of these Acts denied protections that had been afforded under the 1994 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, co-sponsored by Chuck Schumer and signed by Bill Clinton. As The Heritage Foundation’s Jay Richards noted, the original form of these bills was designed to ensure that religious people other than full-time clergy had no legal protection or recourse if they did not support activities that violated their deeply held faith commitments—such as happens when governments force faith-based bakers, artists, or florists to provide services for a gender transition or gay marriage celebrations.

That brings us full circle back to Qatar and the World Cup. Are these Western athletes really social justice champions with a track record of social action? It is more likely that they feel compelled to jump on a social propaganda bandwagon that they are inexorably drawn to because overt allegiance to the new agenda is expected of celebrity athletes plugged in to social media. In an era of overwhelming media and social media messaging, all of us must be vigilant about blindly following the mass idol of the moment.


Eric Patterson

Eric Patterson is president and CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., and past dean of the School of Government at Regent University. He is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including Just American Wars, Politics in a Religious World, and Ending Wars Well.


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