World Cup: FIFA demands Belgium removes hidden ‘love’ message from team shirts

The Belgium World Cup kit

FIFA has demanded the Belgium football team remove or cover up the word “Love” from the inside collar of their Qatar World Cup away shirts.

The decision comes before Belgium plays against Canada on Wednesday (23 November) for their opening match in the tournament.

ESPN reported that FIFA was not open to negotiations regarding the “Love” stitching and “categorically refused” to discuss it with the Belgian federation.

The “Love” detail stands for diversity, equality and inclusivity. It was inspired by Belgium’s  electronic music festival, Tomorrowland – the logo of which is incorporated into the “o” of “Love”.

Stefan Van Loock, spokesperson for the Belgian Red Devils, said the rejection from FIFA is based on the detail’s commercial ties, not its display of queer solidarity.

The demand is the latest of several controversial acts from FIFA regarding displays of LGBTQ+ solidarity at the tournament. Earlier this week, teams that had planned to wear a OneLove armband at the World Cup backed down after FIFA threatened sporting sanctions.

It is hard, however, for LGBTQ+ football fans to take FIFA’s decision out of context.

LGBTQ+ rights and safety at the tournament have been matters of concern since FIFA selected Qatar – a country with a history of criminalising and abusing queer minorities – as the 2022 World Cup host.

FIFA President said he ‘might feel gay’

On Saturday (19 November), FIFA President Gianni Infantino pushed back on such scrutiny during a press conference, in which he likened LGBTQ+ discrimination to having red hair.

“I know what it feels [like] to be discriminated … I was bullied because I had red hair,” he said. “Plus I was Italian.”

Infantino went on to say he might “feel” Qatari, Arab, gay or disabled on any given day. However, he is, in fact, none of these, even if he feels like it.

FIFA’s controversies have not halted the conversation about LGBTQ+ rights in Qatar. With each contested decision or comment, quite the opposite has happened.

Those not beholden to FIFA’s demands are especially speaking out. Queer BBC Sport World Cup presenter Alex Scott was praised this week for wearing the OneLove armband in Qatar, after the teams meant to wear it backed down when threatened with a yellow card.

The Belgian federation has not yet decided whether it will bow to FIFA’s latest demand.