Harry Kane could have been prevented from playing against Iran or even put the game in jeopardy if England had followed through with the plan for the captain to wear a rainbow-coloured armband in their World Cup opener, it has emerged.
The Football Association were among seven European federations to pull the plug on the 'OneLove', pro-inclusivity armband in Qatar after FIFA threatened players who wear it with 'sporting sanctions' - initially thought to be mean a pre-match yellow card.
However, FIFA is understood to have told the FAs of England, Wales, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark that any player wearing the armband would be punished with "at least" a booking, and there were fears they could be forced to sit out matches or even put the game itself at risk.
Wales chief executive Noel Mooney has said captain Gareth Bale faced a “yellow or red card” if he wore the armband against the USA, while Gareth Southgate confirmed that the sporting sanctions threatened by FIFA were “not clear”.
The FA also believe that Kane wearing the armband would not have resulted in the referee physically showing him a yellow card on the pitch, which might have been a powerful statement, but the striker would have simply started the match on a booking.
In a joint-statement the seven federations described the threat of sanctions as “unprecedented”, acknowledging that players had been threatened with a yellow card or being “forced from the field of play”.
The FA has instructed their legal team to examine how FIFA was planning to implement its regulations and whether the rules were being properly applied, while the German football federation has already confirmed it is exploring legal options.
Speaking ahead of England's second game against the USA on Friday night, Southgate said: “I don’t know all the ins and outs because I wasn’t in the meeting [between FIFA and the national federations] but there was definitely a feel there were sanctions and not all of those were really clear, I think, so the decision was taken out of the hands of Harry.
“The decisions from the organisation was we’re not even putting the armband in the dressing room. There is no discussion, that’s done. The player had no say in that. But what that exactly looked like I don’t know because I wasn’t in the meeting. It’s not something I’ve wanted to spend more time on.”
Germany responded to FIFA's threats with a protest ahead of their opening game against Japan on Wednesday, the starting XI putting their hands over their mouths during the pre-match photo.
“Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position,” said the German FA.
Southgate, meanwhile, has acknowledged that nations are running the risk of being distracted by off-field issues in Qatar.
“I noticed the Danish coach [said] he felt he hadn’t got enough bandwidth to deal with the football,” he said. “I think that’s the risk that we’re all running. I’m quite comfortable with our position and I think we should be confident in what we stand for [and] what we think we can affect.
“There was a plan [before Iran], we weren’t able to carry out that plan. What do we do now? Do we all try to out-do each other on a gesture that might actually be... How ever we do it, [it] probably won’t be enough. Probably could be criticised.
“We want to support the LGBTQ+ community in particular and recognise that a lot of those people aren’t here with us, and we wanted them here with us. But we could also rush into doing things that don’t land well and don’t really make any difference and take a lot of time and energy away from where we need to be now.”
England centre-half John Stones revealed the squad would discuss potential next steps at a team meeting on the eve of the USA game but followed Southgate's lead in sounding a note of caution about the effectiveness of protests.
Asked if they had any protests planned for the match at Al Bayt Stadium, Stones said: “Not as of yet, no, but I'm sure in our meeting tonight we'll talk about these sort of things. We don't want to get carried away with what other people are doing.
“We want to stay true to our own values, but at the same time, we do want to make things heard and aware of, how we feel, we want to get everyone's opinion across in the right way. I feel it's really difficult at the minute to do that without upsetting peoples' rules or whatever it might be.
“There's a really fine line with all this and so far we're trying to stick to our values and what we believe in as a team. Make sure we don't get pushed over.”