Australia’s Jackson Irvine says he has sympathy for European World Cup players threatened with sanctions for wearing the OneLove rainbow armbands but has questioned the messaging behind them.
The midfielder, who has been one of football’s most outspoken voices on the human rights problems which have long plagued the Qatar showpiece, acknowledged the complexities of the situation while also pointing out that some members of the LGBTQ+ community have criticised it as “vague and lacking a real kind of statement”.
England, Wales and five other European nations have confirmed their players will not wear the armband promoting diversity and inclusion, saying Fifa had made it clear their captains could be booked or forced to leave the pitch if they did so.
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This has prompted Germany’s football federation to announce plans to take legal steps against Fifa, while Denmark say they have had internal discussions about withdrawing completely from the global governing body.
The reaction from LGBTQ+ groups has been mixed and included condemnation of Fifa and of the initial campaign as tokenistic. “I can’t speak for other countries and the decisions they make, and what they feel is the right way to protest any kind of social injustice they feel is being done,” Irvine said on Thursday.
“The OneLove armband is an interesting discussion in itself because conversations I’ve had with people from the LGBTQI+ community have already described that messaging as vague and lacking a real kind of statement in what it’s actually trying to achieve as well.
“So there’s conversations we have from every angle about these things, but I can’t speak on what other countries will decide to do and those discussions they’ll have. They’ll make the decision that they feel is best for them.”
In a statement of defiance against Fifa, Germany’s players on Thursday placed hands over their mouths and wore rainbow stripes on their warmup tops and boots before their Group E defeat against Japan. Their message was supported by the German interior minister, Nancy Faeser, who wore a OneLove armband as she sat next to the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino.
Australia’s national team made their collective statement a fortnight before arriving in Qatar, releasing a video in which players raised concerns about the “suffering” of migrant workers and the inability for LGBTQ+ people in Qatar “to love the person that they choose”.
“The clear position that we took coming into this tournament … there was no possibility to have that change thrown on us at a late stage,” Irvine said. “That’s why we chose to do that and the timing in which we did it as well. It’s difficult to speak for those other countries. I know if I had to start on a card I’d be in a right pickle, so I can totally understand how that affects different players.
“But when you put yourself in a position where you’ve maybe not made your position totally clear and the gesture you have chosen to take, there’s different circumstances come around that. Then it becomes difficult to react, especially in such a short space of time.”
Irvine also referenced the human rights problems in Australia, a country with a terrible track record regarding Aboriginal deaths in custody and the disproportionately high incarceration numbers of First Nations people.
“I hope it’s something as a team that we do continue to talk about,” Irvine said. “I’ve commented in the past about problems we have at home, as much as the issues we’ve talked about here. Obviously us as players and being part of this tournament, we are so intrinsically linked to these issues at this time.
“People talk about the hypocrisy talking about these issues and not talking about ones that happen at home, but I hope that’s something that we continue to explore in the future and as part of our growth as a team and as individuals.”
Meanwhile, the Football Australia chief executive, James Johnson, would not divulge whether his organisation would vote to re-elect Infantino, who is running unopposed in March, or join Denmark in pledging not to.
“We are not in a position right now to decide that, because we don’t have to,” said Johnson, who previously worked with Infantino during his days as a former high-ranking Fifa official.
“At this stage I understand that it’s only president Infantino who will run, so I’m not sure if there’ll be a decision to make, so to speak. In the event there was a contested election, we would ask the candidates what their vision is, what their priorities are and what their agenda is.”
Johnson also defended Infantino’s highly controversial pre-tournament press conference, saying he had been attempting “to shift the narrative away from the political discussion around the World Cup”.
“He wanted to address it on the spot and then get everyone focused on the World Cup and the football,” he said. “I think Gianni is, at heart, a football person. He’s been in football his whole life. That’s always been my experience with him.”