A request by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to share a message of world peace prior to kickoff at the World Cup final on Sunday has been rebuffed by FIFA, a source told CNN.
The source said Zelensky’s office is offering to appear in a video link to fans in the stadium in Qatar, ahead of the game and was surprised by the negative response. It’s unclear if Zelensky’s message would be live, or taped.
“We thought FIFA wanted to use its platform for the greater good,” the source said.
However, talks between Ukraine and the sport’s governing body are still underway, the source added. CNN has reached out to FIFA for comment, but it did not immediately respond.
The request, while unorthodox, is unsurprising. Kyiv has repeatedly tried to use major world events, regardless of their theme, to keep the global spotlight on the war in Ukraine.
Zelensky has appeared via video at everything from the Group of 20 Nations summit to the Grammys and the Cannes Film Festival. He’s also done interviews and conversations with a diverse array of journalists and famous entertainers, including Sean Penn and David Letterman, employing the charm and media savvy he developed in the entertainment industry – he was an actor before becoming a politician – to rally support for Ukraine.
FIFA, however, has gone to extreme length to keep political messaging out of its showcase tournament in Qatar, the first Middle Eastern nation ever to stage the event.
Criticism of the wealthy Gulf state’s treatment of LGBTQ people and migrant workers grew louder in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. FIFA boss Gianni Infantino responded with an explosive tirade shortly before the tournament began, accusing Europe and the West of hypocrisy.
FIFA and seven European nations later came to loggerheads over the threat of sanctions for any player wearing a “OneLove” captain’s armband during games. The accessory features a striped heart in different colors to represent all heritages, backgrounds, genders and sexual identities.
Hours before England captain Harry Kane was scheduled to wear the armband against Iran, FIFA said any player wearing the armbands would receive a yellow card, putting them in increased danger of being sent off or banned from a later game in the tournament.
Grant Wahl, the famed American soccer journalist who suddenly died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm during the World Cup, said in November that he was detained and briefly refused entry to a match because he was wearing a rainbow t-shirt in support of LGBTQ rights.
At a news conference Friday, Infantino said FIFA had stopped some “political statements” in Qatar because it has to “take care of everyone.”
“We are a global organization and we don’t discriminate against anyone,” Infantino said.
“We are defending values, we are defending human rights and rights of everyone at the World Cup. Those fans and the billions watching on TV, they have their own problems. They just want to watch 90 or 120 minutes without having to think about anything, but just enjoying a little moment of pleasure and joy. We have to give them a moment when they can forget about their problems and enjoy football.”