‘Respect my decision’: Dutch league footballers opt out of wearing ‘One Love’ armbands

The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 will be hosted in the Middle East for the first time in the tournament’s history.

Feyenoord captain Orkun Kokcu and Excelsior captain Redouan El Yaakoub have refused to wear the “One Love” armbands, pointing towards personal reasons for their decision.

The Dutch football association campaign initiated the “One Love” campaign to portray support toward the LGBTQ+ community during the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

However, Kokcu said he wishes to follow his religious beliefs and opted out of partaking in the movement during a league match this week.

“I think it is important to emphasise that I respect everyone regardless of religion, background, or preference; I think everyone is free to do what they want or feel,” Kokcu stated.

The 21-year-old midfielder believes that the campaign is meaningful but has expressed that he is not comfortable wearing the armband.

“I fully understand the importance of this campaign, but because of my religious beliefs, I don’t feel [I’m] the right person to support it,” Kokcu added.

“That’s why I don’t feel comfortable wearing the captain’s band. I imagine that there will be people disappointed by my decision, and it is not my intention at all. I understand that feelings towards me do not fade with these words, but I hope that my choice for religious reasons will be equally respected.”

CEO and director of Feyenoord, Dennis te Kloese admitted talks to persuade Kokcu were challenging and reassured that the club will continue to align itself with the campaign.

“There is a lot to be done on this issue. And it is a theme which we are actively dealing with as a club. Talks with Kökcü were difficult,” te Kloese said.

Redouan El Yaakoub is another captain from the Dutch league to decline the armband and instead will wear an alternative band, with the statement of ‘respect.’

“Everyone should have respect for each other, not just a group or a theme. There are more problems in the world that we can talk about,” Yaakoub said.

The ‘One Love’ campaign began in the Netherlands and has been adopted by 16 of the 18 captains in the country, with Kokcu and Yaakoub missing.

Qatar World Cup attacks

Qatar has faced a barrage of criticism ever since winning the bid to host the World Cup back in 2010, with critics citing its anti-LGBTQ+ laws as well as the Gulf state’s treatment of migrant workers.

All eight European nations who qualified for the World Cup this year confirmed their intentions to wear a rainbow armband throughout the winter tournament as a form of protest against the Gulf state.

Despite FIFA insisting on fines for teams who go ahead with the protest, the European federation has stated it will not compromise its campaign.

“As captains, we may all be competing against each other on the pitch, but we stand together against all forms of discrimination,” England’s Harry Kane said.

However, officials from Qatar have repeatedly said all football fans are welcome to attend the world’s biggest sporting event.

Qatar’s World Cup CEO, Nasser Al Khater, has defended his country by stating no one will face discrimination but noted the country simply wants its values respected.

“At the end of the day, as long as you don’t do anything that harms other people, if you’re not destroying public property, as long as you’re behaving in a way that’s not harmful, then everybody’s welcome, and you have nothing to worry about,” Al Khater said in an interview to Sky News earlier this month.

Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has also echoed similar sentiments, noting the government will open its door to all “without discrimination.”

“The Qatari people will receive with open arms football fans from all walks of life,” said Sheikh Tamim at this year’s UN General Assembly.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) was asked at the Qatar Economic Forum (QEF) in Doha about potential protests sprouting up in the host nation.

“Protests? Protests for what? This is a tournament for celebration. From day one we’ve always said football has a very powerful ability to bring people together,” Al Thawadi said at QEF.

Al-Thawadi also echoed the Amir’s sentiments, “we ask people to respect our culture. I don’t think that’s much to ask and that’s as simple as that.” 

Speaking at the same event, FIFA President Gianni Infantino addressed concerns over whether fans may be detained for not following the customs. 

“This will not happen, of course,” he told moderator and Bloomberg anchor, Francine Lacqua.

“People will get arrested if they destroy something, if they start fighting in the streets, and I expect this to happen in World Cups normally…everyone will be welcomed.”

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