‘Draconian’: gay footballer Josh Cavallo hits out at Fifa over rainbow armband edict

Josh Cavallo, the Australian footballer who came out as gay last year, has criticised Fifa’s decision to penalise players at the World Cup who show support for the LGBTQ+ community, saying the move shows that football remains far from an inclusive space.

Captains from seven European teams intended to wear the “OneLove” rainbow armband at the tournament in Qatar, but ditched the plan before the first round of group matches amid fears they would receive an immediate booking for the show of solidarity.

The England captain, Harry Kane, said the decision had been taken out of his hands and was instead forced to wear Fifa’s “anti-discrimination” armband in his team’s opening win over Iran.

In a scathing social media post addressing Fifa, Cavallo said the lack of support for the inclusivity push meant he had lost all respect for the game’s world governing body.

“I love my identity,” the Adelaide United player wrote. “Seeing you have banned all teams to wear the One Love armband to actively support LGBTQ+ at the World Cup. You have lost my respect.

“All the work my fellow allies and the LGBTQ+ community are doing to make football inclusive, you have shown that football isn’t a place for everyone.”

Kane would have been joined by the Netherlands captain, Virgil van Dijk, and the Wales skipper, Gareth Bale, in wearing the OneLove armbands on Monday, with Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark expected to follow suit in their openers.

But in a joint statement following Fifa’s edict – which was described by the German federation president, Bernd Neuendorf, as an “outrageous demonstration of power from Fifa” – the seven national federations confirmed they would not wear the rainbow armbands.

“As national federations we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions, including bookings,” the statement said.

The Australian captain, Mat Ryan, who appeared in a video with Socceroos teammates before the tournament to raise concerns over human rights issues including the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in Qatar, said he had been told if he wore a rainbow armband, he would receive a yellow card.

Ryan said the joint statement released with his teammates a month ago had been an attempt to try to “influence positive change in the world”.

Asked about Fifa’s latest directions on armbands, Ryan said: “I have got no comment. We made our statement with our players union. That’s all we can control.”

Cavallo became the only known male top-flight professional footballer in the world to come out as gay in October last year, prompting an outpouring of support from across the globe. He has since been outspoken on gay rights issues and advocated for inclusivity in football.

“It’s not the first time we’ve heard ‘stick to football,’” he wrote. “The attacks on the LGBTQ+ community from World Cup leaders affects so many who live in silence because of your draconian ways. To be a great leader in sport, one must never give up trying to bring all people together.”