U.S. women’s national team standouts Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger said FIFA’s decision to host the men’s World Cup in Qatar, a country where same-sex relationships are illegal, moved soccer “five steps backwards.”
Qatar has come under fire for human rights violations as well as the persecution of LGBTQ+ people. The host nation also has been accused of bribing FIFA to win the privilege of hosting the event.
Players on participating men’s national teams have backed off plans to wear rainbow armbands due to the threat of yellow cards, but former England women’s national team star and current BBC pundit Alex Scott wore one during a broadcast in a show of support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Harris and Krieger, speaking on their new series “The Most Important Thing,” addressed FIFA’s decision to hold the tournament in Qatar, calling it “so unfortunate.” The former USWNT teammates, who won the World Cup together in 2015 and 2019, are married with two children.
“It is one of the most important tournaments, if not the most important tournament, in all of sports, in the entire world,” Krieger said. “It’s supposed to bring people together and be inclusive, be accepting. And it’s in a country that is so behind and homophobic.”
Harris questioned the impact the tournament could have on the LGBTQ+ community, including the effect on players who count themselves as part of that community.
“Think about a young football player, players who are there, that are gay, who are so scared, who don’t feel safe,” she said. “How are we showing up for the queer community, the younger generation?”
“For Gianni to stand up in a press conference and say, ‘I understand, I was bullied as a kid. I had red hair and freckles.’ Come on. You are not marginalized,” Harris continued, addressing FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s much-maligned pre-tournament press conference. “He could barely even say the word gay.
“You’re supporting [Qatar] by allowing it to even happen, and putting [the World Cup] in countries like this that don’t accept [the LGBTQ+ community]. So we took five steps backwards and now you want me to support you in your decision-making moving forward?”
The USMNT had redesigned its logo to include the rainbow at their Al Gharrafa training facility, but the team hasn’t worn that logo during games. The team is only displaying the rainbow crest in areas that it controls, including in pre-match parties before World Cup games. And so far, no USMNT players have spoken out.
“I wonder what our men are thinking and feeling right now, because I haven’t really seen a lot of them speak out on this topic. Because I know for us and our team, we’re 100 percent together,” Krieger said. “We’re protesting. We’re speaking up. We’re using our platforms. We’re doing the absolute most against it.”
“We wouldn’t be playing in this tournament,” added Harris.
“So I wonder why it’s so difficult for our men to do the same. And to fight for issues they believe in and fight more on this grand stage. It’s the perfect time,” Krieger continued. “You have to be careful, because you don’t want to take away from the task at hand but these are people’s lives. These are your coworkers’ lives.”