World Cup 2022: ‘We are being controlled,’ says Belgium’s Jan Vertonghen, fears getting banned for speaking out

Belgium’s Jan Vertonghen says he is “afraid to say something” about discrimination issues surrounding the Qatar World Cup for fear that he could get banned from playing in the tournament.

Belgium are one of the eight nations that had planned to wear the ‘OneLove’ captain’s armband – designed to promote inclusivity – at the tournament, but FIFA have ruled that it cannot be worn, and if it is, yellow cards could be produced for the captains of those teams.

England did not wear the armband for their first game against Iran on Monday.

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Belgium have also seen the word ‘Love’ removed from their away shirts following a late directive from FIFA, although this is reportedly due to the fact it references the famous Tomorrowland music festival, causing a commercial conflict.

Speaking ahead of the Red Devils’ opening match against Canada on Wednesday, ex-Spurs defender Vertonghen said: “I’m afraid to say something. I wonder whether I will be allowed to play on the field tomorrow.

“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?

“I don’t want to say anything because tomorrow I want to appear at kick-off.”

Peter Bossaert, CEO of the Belgian FA, spoke on Monday about how the process had unfolded with FIFA.

“The word LOVE must disappear [from the away shirts]. It’s sad, but FIFA leaves us no choice,” he said.

“We have no choice, because the penalties are disproportionate. We can’t risk [Belgium skipper] Eden [Hazard] getting a yellow card before the game starts. We were prepared to pay high fines and we also indicated this in our conversations with FIFA.

“But there was simply no consultation possible. That means that we cannot continue our action. That band is not a political statement. It is a call for more inclusiveness and a signal for diversity.

“We really went to great lengths to reach an agreement, until FIFA suddenly indicated that yellow cards would be handed out. The referees had already been instructed to give it if anyone wore that band. We wanted to defuse the situation, but we didn’t succeed.

“In the coming period, the RBFA [Belgian FA] will take a critical look at its relationship with FIFA, together with the other countries involved.

“Look, our position is clear. FIFA’s response has made that position even clearer than ever before, the whole world knows it.”

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