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Banned Armbands, Protest Kits, and the “Wrong Orange”: Jersey Dispatches from the 2022 World Cup

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At the World Cup in Qatar, even the jerseys come with controversy.

DOHA QATAR  NOVEMBER 21 Denzel Dumfries and Matthijs de Ligt of Netherlands enter the pitch for the second half during...

The Netherlands national team enters the pitch for their first 2022 World Cup match against Senegal on November 21 in Doha, Qatar.Mike Hewitt – FIFA/Getty Images

The FIFA World Cup kicked off Sunday in Qatar, punctuating but hardly dispelling a decade’s worth of tension that’s built up since the country won hosting rights back in 2010. Soccer fans, players, executives, and governing bodies have struggled to square a morass of grievances—ranging from conservative Qatar’s restrictive laws to reports of corruption and human rights abuses related to the construction-related deaths of over 6,000 primarily South Asian migrant laborers—with the notion of a purportedly inclusive global sporting event. In the lead-up to this year’s games, many participating teams announced they would wear their protest on their literal sleeves. But perhaps because few aspects of this year’s tournament have been spared a creeping sense of joylessness, concerns about team uniform regulations seem to be getting in the way already.

On Monday, a coalition of European teams announced that their captains would not, as previously planned, wear rainbow-hearted “OneLove” armbands as a show of solidarity against anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Hours before the first matches began, FIFA confirmed that it would issue a preemptive yellow card to any players wearing the band, citing a bylaw that states captains must wear the ones FIFA provided. (Two yellow cards in a game means the offending player must sit out the remainder of the match.) This led participating teams from England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands to walk back on the gesture in favor of preserving their gameplay. 

Norway’s Martin Ødegaard wears a rainbow-striped OneLove armband during a match last week in Dublin.Eóin Noonan/Getty Images

“We stand for the ‘OneLove’ message and will continue to spread it, but our No. 1 priority at the World Cup is to win the games,” the Dutch soccer association KNVB said in a statement about the decision. “You don’t want the captain to start the match with a yellow card.” 

Meanwhile, the US men’s national team also appear to have swapped out their preplanned uniforms, which were to feature a rainbow-striped crest, for more neutral kits during their first game against Wales on Monday, and two American journalists reported that they’d been asked to remove rainbow-hued articles of clothing upon their arrival to Qatari stadiums. Per the New York Times, World Cup security officials had warned fans against bringing rainbow Pride flags into stadiums “for their own safety.”

Broader gestures were being policed. Last week, Denmark also shared that FIFA had rejected its plan to inscribe the team’s training jerseys with the phrase “Human Rights for All,” dashing what would have been a more explicit version of the statement already expressed by the team’s defiant kits. “We are of the opinion that the message Human Rights for All is universal and is not a political call, but it should be something that all people can support,” Jakob Jensen, CEO of the Danish Football Federation, told the Danish sports publication DR Sporten, per CNN

The Denmark national team debuts their all-black kits during a training session in Qatar.NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/Getty Images

Nonetheless, the Danes—who are slated to play their first game tomorrow against Tunisia’s national team—debuted their intentionally subdued, all-black training uniforms during a practice on Monday, designed by the Danish sportswear brand Hummel in protest of Qatar’s role as host. (“We don’t wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives,” the brand wrote on Instagram back in September.) The players, clad in their quiet, all-black uniforms representing “the color of mourning,” looked like figurines of deep negative space, moving quickly against the artificially vibrant green grass of the pitch.

Other concerns were more purely aesthetic. When the Netherlands took to the field on Monday, viewers lamented that their jerseys appeared to be a more peachy take on the team’s signature orange, taking the gusto out of the country’s historically punchy kits. In a so-far-subdued World Cup, even non-protest jersey choices seemed to fall flat.

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