The Football Ferns captain was seen wearing a white and blue armband reading ‘Unite for Inclusion’ as Ali Riley and the New Zealand team scored a surprise win over Norway in the 2023 Women’s World Cup opener on Thursday.
In contrast, Steph Cutley, who captained Australia with captain Sam Kerr out injured, wore the same colored armband that read ‘Unite for the Indigenous peoples’ as Matilda fought for a 1-0 victory over Ireland in Sydney.
These expressions represent two of the eight options the captain of a flagship event can choose from, given that armbands are unlikely to be a topic of conversation in the 2022 men’s event.
What are the eight armbands of the Women’s World Cup?
According to FIFA, each of the eight different armbands carries a “specific message” and is part of the FIFA governing body’s ‘Football unites the world’ campaign, in partnership with various UN agencies and the World Health Organization.
• Unite for Inclusion – Partnership with United Nations Human Rights
• Unite for Indigenous Peoples – Partnered with UN Human Rights
• Unite for gender equality – partnership with UN Women
• Unite for Peace – UNHCR partners with UN Refugee Agency
• Unite for Education for All – in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
• Unite for Zero Hunger – Partnering with the United Nations World Food Program
• Unite to End Violence Against Women – Partnership with UN Women
• Football is joy, peace, love, hope and passion – in partnership with WHO
Why did FIFA sanction these armbands?
At last year’s men’s World Cup in Qatar, many European captains declined to wear armbands with stripes of hearts in different colors as part of the ‘OneLove’ campaign.
The teams involved, including England, the Netherlands and Germany, said in a statement that FIFA had threatened on-field sanctions, including yellow cards, for “kit rule violations”.
The idea of wearing armbands was meant to represent a stand against all forms of discrimination, including solidarity with people of different genders and sexual identities.
Notably, none of the options on the women’s captain’s list explicitly mention LGBTQ rights, instead addressing the issue under the “themes” of “gender equality” and “inclusion.”
How was the armband theme chosen?
Regarding the choice of theme, a release on FIFA’s website describes the ‘Football Units the World’ campaign as ‘a global movement for inspiration, unity and development through football’.
FIFA said it had chosen specific causes after “extensive consultation with players and participating teams” to “raise awareness of several important social issues”.
In a separate statement on June 30, the day the armband was unveiled, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said: “Football brings the world together and global events like the FIFA Women’s World Cup have a unique ability to bring people together and bring joy, excitement and passion.
“But football does more than that. It shines a spotlight on a very important cause in our society.”
What was the reaction to the armband?
Several teams have embraced the philosophies emphasized in their FIFA-approved armbands. England captain Millie Bright says she will wear three different armbands for each group stage match.
“As a group, we feel very strongly about all the causes and we couldn’t separate them,” Bright said, according to Reuters.
“As a team, we know what we stand for, we know what we believe in, and we know what changes we want to make.
Sarah Gregorius, president of the World Players Association FIFPRO, also supports the idea.
“Personally some players may feel something, but I know that cultural context makes it a particularly dangerous position, so it’s hard to say, ‘This is my position on behalf of all 32 captains of all 32 national teams,'” Gregorius told Reuters.
Other representations in the World Cup
The players weren’t allowed to wear pride-coloured armbands, but that didn’t stop them from finding other creative ways to express themselves on social issues.
New Zealander Riley’s painted nails were visible during the post-fight interview. One of his hands was painted with the colors of the rainbow flag and the other with the colors of the trans flag, clearly showing his support for the LGBTQ+ community.
“It’s an honor to wear the rainbow armband,” Riley told CNN Sports’ Amanda Davis before the tournament and FIFA was announced.
she said: “I hope that as captains we will come together and work with FIFA to ensure that we speak up and share what we believe in. But I am confident that we will find ways to ensure our voices are heard no matter what.”
Her colorful nails have been praised on social media and have “broken the internet,” her club Angel City FC said on Instagram, along with photos of her during the game.
The website Women’s Sports Exchange tweeted: “Nothing will stop Ali Riley from performing PRIDE at this summer’s World Cup.”
Hollywood actress Jennifer Garner also praised the New Zealand captain, commenting on Angel City’s post, “We are Stan (Ali Riley).”