Virgil van Dijk denies lacking ‘backbone’ over OneLove armband controversy

Virgil van Dijk has hit back at claims the Netherlands and other countries have been spineless in the controversy over anti-discrimination armbands.

The Dutch were one of seven European teams, including England and Wales, who planned for their captains to wear the rainbow‑coloured OneLove armband at the World Cup.

The band is part of a year-long campaign but would have sent an especially significant message in Qatar, which criminalises same‑sex relationships. But the seven countries dropped their plans after Fifa threatened them with sporting sanctions including yellow cards for the captains if the bands were worn, instructing teams to wear a Fifa‑approved “no discrimination” band instead.

After the 2-0 win against Senegal on Monday, the Netherlands captain, Van Dijk, told the Dutch broadcaster NOS: “I play in a position where a yellow card is not useful. I became a football player and I want to play these kind of tournaments. There are people who say we don’t have a backbone, but that’s not how it works.

“We just want to play football. I would have loved to play with that band, but not at the expense of a yellow card.”

The England captain, Harry Kane, said he was disappointed not to be able to wear the band during his team’s opening win against Iran on Monday, while his teammate Jack Grealish said it was “a bit stupid” that Kane had been prevented from doing so.

The Football Association had been prepared to be fined over the band but its position – and that of the other associations – changed when it became apparent sporting sanctions were a possibility.

Fifa has been heavily criticised over the matter. It announced its plan for an approved armband on Saturday, and even then said the “no discrimination” part of its campaign would only begin at the quarter-final stage. Instead on Monday that position shifted. It followed a late U-turn on alcohol sales within stadium perimeters last Friday.

Wales supporters alleged rainbow-coloured items were confiscated before their match against the USA on Monday, including Laura McAllister, who last year stood for election to the Fifa Council. She tweeted: “So, despite fine words from FIFAWorldCup before event Cymru rainbow bucket hats confiscated at stadium, mine included.

“I had a conversation about this with stewards – we have video evidence. This WorldCup2022 just gets better but we will continue stand up for our values.”

Fifa is understood to have had assurances from the Qatari authorities before the tournament that supporters would be able to wear rainbow-coloured clothing and carry rainbow-coloured banners and flags.