Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen has claimed he feels 'controlled' in Qatar over what he can say after teams were banned from wearing the 'One Love' armbands at the FIFA World Cup.
Before their opening match, England and Harry Kane were involved in the 'One Love' armband controversy. Kane, the Netherlands' Virgil van Dijk and Wales' Gareth Bale were all due to wear the OneLove armbands in Monday's games to show their support for inclusion.
Homosexuality is illegal in the Gulf state. The captains of Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark were also expected to wear the armbands in the coming days.
However, FIFA made their position clear and told the captains they would receive yellow cards if they went ahead with wearing the armbands during games. That sparked all teams to refrain from wearing the armbands.
The controversy has continued with backlash levelled at the players for not making a stand. Eden Hazard was due to wear the armband for Belgium in their opening match against Canada. However, Belgium defender Vertonghen has revealed he feels 'afraid' to speak out over the controversy due to the potential consequences of his actions.
"I’m afraid to say something. I wonder whether I will be allowed to play on the field tomorrow," he said in a press conference.
🗣 "I'm afraid if I say something about this whether or not I'll be able to play on the field tomorrow, that is a situation I've never ever experienced in football."
Jan Vertonghen says they are being "controlled" and he is afraid to speak up on important issues pic.twitter.com/BwbjwjlIl7
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) November 22, 2022
"That is something I’ve never experienced in football and I don’t want to experience again and it’s not good. We are being controlled.
"Is it too late [for the armband protest]? That is a tough question. I don’t know. If you make a statement now by wearing the armband that means you punish yourself. Now I’m afraid to say anything at all. I’m not comfortable talking about this, to be put on the spot. That is telling you enough.
“I don’t like making a political statement. We’re here to play football and if we can’t do that because of making a statement and saying normal things as no against racism and discrimination then what?"
FIFA slammed over armband stance
The German Football Association (DFB) also claimed federations whose teams planned on wearing the 'OneLove' armbands backed down after "extreme blackmail".
The federations claimed FIFA threatened to issue yellow cards to any player wearing the multi-coloured armband.
The DFB's media director Steffen Simon told German Deutschlandfunk radio that England, the first team expected to wear it on Monday in their game against Iran, had been threatened with multiple sporting sanctions.
"The tournament director went to the English team and talked about multiple rule violations and threatened with massive sporting sanctions without specifying what these would be," he said.
Simon, who did not specify if he was referring to local organisers or FIFA in his reference to the tournament director, said the other six nations then decided to "show solidarity" and not wear it.
"We lost the armband and it is very painful but we are the same people as before with the same values. We are not impostors who claim they have values and then betray them," he said.
"We were in an extreme situation, in an extreme blackmail and we thought we had to take that decision without wanting to do so."
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.