For four years, coach Gregg Berhalter and his 26-man team have worked towards this moment – to make amends for the failure to even qualify for the tournament last time out and to deliver on promises that have eluded the American men’s program for much of its history. .
Players and coaches have not lost sight of goals that extend well beyond the pitch, however. They are not oblivious to human rights concerns in the host country, and as the global spotlight turns to the month-long tournament which begins on Sunday, they want to use football’s huge platform to help stimulate change.
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In a media room tucked inside Al-Gharrafa Stadium – the Americans’ training base for the duration of their stay in Qatar – a wall is decorated in the colors of the rainbow and the crest of the American Football Federation displays the same motif. It’s a show of support for LGBT rights in a country where homosexuality is illegal and where former Qatari player Khalid Salman, World Cup ambassador, recently told a German broadcaster that homosexuality is ” damage to the spirit”.
The USSF said it would display the colors at other venues it controls, such as the team hotel, media areas and fan parties the day before matches. Players will not wear the rainbow crest on match kits.
“We’ve spoken to the team over the last 18 months about Qatar, about the social issues in Qatar, and we think it’s important when we’re on the world stage – and when we’re on a world stage like Qatar – to raise awareness of these issues,” Berhalter said. “We recognize that Qatar has made a ton of progress, but there is still work to be done.”
There are limits, imposed and self-imposed, on the actions World Cup teams can take on social issues without compromising their position in the tournament. FIFA, the world governing body for sport, does not allow team equipment to display any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images. For its part, the American team is keen to respect its hosts while continuing to educate them.
Qatar’s selection to host the World Cup has also drawn attention to the treatment of migrant workers, who make up a large proportion of the country’s 3 million people. In addition to the traditional red and white uniforms, Denmark will have the option of wearing black shirts to protest Qatar’s human rights record.
FIFA won’t oppose the shirts but have rejected the Danes’ request to train in shirts labeled ‘human rights for all’.
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Earlier this month, FIFA wrote a letter to all 32 teams, telling them: “Please let’s focus on football now!”
Additionally, several European team captains plan to wear a “OneLove” armband, promoting diversity and inclusion.
Through an initiative called “Be the Change,” American gamers have been active on social rights issues since the 2020 killing of George Floyd.
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“It’s a sign of our values and what we stand for as a national team,” said goalkeeper Sean Johnson, “and we are a group that believes in inclusiveness and we will continue to project that message to the future.”
Defender Shaq Moore added: “We are aware of what is going on, and we still want to be here and play, but also be the change.”
The men’s and women’s national teams wore rainbow colors on their uniforms during home friendlies and supported social justice causes by printing messages on training materials.
“Our rainbow badge plays an important and cohesive role in the identity of American football,” USSF communications manager Neil Buethe said in a statement Monday. “As part of our approach to any game or event, we include rainbow branding to support and embrace the LGBTQ community, as well as to promote a spirit of inclusion and welcome for all fans around the world. .”
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The American delegation settled into its hotel in the exclusive district of Pearl, which juts out into the Persian Gulf. The players’ lounge includes a barber chair, big-screen TVs, pool tables, foosball and a putting green. Players watched NFL games on Sunday.
Friends and family members will stay close by.
The team brought with them 30,000 pounds of equipment, food and other support materials. Besides its own barber, the US team has its own chef – an Italian named Giulio Caccamo who team officials met when the US was in San Salvador for a World Cup qualifier in September 2021. Caccamo was the hotel chef of the team there.
The Americans’ training ground in Doha is a 22,000 seat stadium several miles from the team hotel. Although players have fitness options at the hotel, the USSF has installed an outdoor gym in the stadium. US officials made numerous trips to Doha, well before the team qualified, to scout potential venues.
“It was important to try to get it right,” Berhalter said. “And we think it’s a good combination of hotel and training center.”
Remarks: All but four players took part in training on Monday, and the full group is expected to be in attendance on Tuesday. Tim Weah, Weston McKennie, Sergiño Dest and Haji Wright were due to arrive Monday night after leaving their European clubs. … Team USA will conduct a scrimmage on Thursday against a local club. … The temperature here was around 90 degrees during the day and dropped into the low 70s at night. Next week the range should be mid 80s to mid 60s.