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Jan Vertonghen: Belgium star blasts FIFA over OneLove stance as anger grows

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Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen has spoken out against FIFA’s handling of the OneLove armband controversy at the World Cup in Qatar – criticising football’s governing body is not doing enough to protect players at the tournament.

The 22nd edition of the World Cup has been shrouded in controversy ever since it was awarded to Qatar 12 years ago.

Among the off-the-field issues to have made headlines include Qatar’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. Homosexuality is illegal in the country.

Captains of several nations – including Belgium – had been planning to sport the One Love armband at the tournament ‘to promote inclusion and send a message against discrimination of any kind’.

However, a FIFA threat to sanction any player who took the field while wearing the armband saw plans for the gesture shelved. Officials had indicated that referees would be instructed to book players who ignored the directive.

The respective captains of England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark released a joint statement on Monday morning announcing that they would not be wearing the OneLove armband due to pressure from FIFA.

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Former Tottenham man Vertonghen weighed in on the issue ahead of Belgium’s Group F opener with Canada on Wednesday.

“If you make a statement by wearing the armband that would mean punishing yourself.

“I don’t feel comfortable – and that is telling enough.”

The 35-year-old went on to admit that he was afraid of saying too much for fear that it might cost him the opportunity to play at the tournament.

Jan Vertonghen in action for BelgiumMUNICH, GERMANY – JULY 02: Jan Vertonghen of Belgium runs with the ball during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Belgium and Italy at Football Arena Munich on July 02, 2021 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Vertonghen: ‘I hope I never, ever have to deal with this again’

“We are put on the spot, and I am afraid that if I say something about this, I might not be able to play and that is a situation I have never, ever experienced in football, and I hope I will never, ever have to experience this again because it is not good.

“We are being controlled. I don’t like making political statements. We are here to play football, and if we can’t even do that because we are making a statement and just saying normal things, like ‘no to discrimination’ or ‘no to racism’, and you cannot say that, then hey, then what?

I shouldn’t be saying anything about it because (on Wednesday) I want to appear for the kick-off at 10 o’clock, so I will leave it at that and that says enough.

Video: Vertonghen goes in on FIFA handling of OneLove armband row

Several members of the media, though, have worn the OneLove symbol during their coverage of the World Cup, including the BBC’s Alex Scott who sported the armband before England’s 6-2 win over Iran on Monday.

However, even away from the pitch, imagery in support of the LGBTQ+ community has caused plenty of issues in Qatar.

Former Wales international Laura McAllister was refused entry to the Al-Rayyan Stadium to watch her country take on the USA on Monday evening because she was wearing a rainbow bucket hat.

READ MORE: World Cup 2022: Former Wales player Laura McAllister told to remove rainbow hat

Quiz: Can you name all 30 of these ‘streets won’t forget’ players from World Cups?

1 of 30

A nice easy start…

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