OF all the surprises in the first week of this World Cup, surely one of the greatest has been the ability of FIFA to downgrade yet further a reputation that was, by every estimation, so low few thought there was room to sink further.

FIFA, always the innovators, though, have managed it.

That FIFA have chosen the One Love armband hill to die on is remarkable.

Even a fleeting glance at the furore over the armband which sported rainbow colours and is intended to show support for the LGBTQ+ community shows quite how short-sighted the action over the armband has been.

It began a week ago, when England, Wales and several other nations made clear they were intending to wear these armbands during the tournament.

That Qatar has such stringent anti-gay laws ensured instant politicisation of the issue and FIFA, who can always be relied upon to side with the bad guys, sprung into action.

That all players who chose to sport the armband would, FIFA announced, be rewarded with a yellow card was not exactly the threat of corporal punishment but was more than enough to kibosh these protests. Or, should I say “protests”.

That the mere hint of a yellow card was enough to ensure the armbands were firmly tucked back into Harry Kane, Gareth Bale and the rest’s suitcases indicated this protest did not exactly have the makings of a world-changing event.

But what has happened in the week since England, Wales et al’s capitulation has been far more interesting, and has put a spotlight, once again, on the question of what on earth sporting protests are even there for, and what they do?

The idea that permission was needed for these armbands to be worn says it all about this specific supposed show of support for the LGBTQ+ community.

The most effective protests not only in sport, but in life, have not needed permission. Of course they haven’t.

In England’s opening match against Iran, for which the armbands were safely back in the hotel, one only had to look a few metres from Kane and his compatriots to get a sense of a real protest.

That the Iranian team stood motionless, expressionless and silent as their national anthem was played, in defiance of their country’s awful treatment of its citizens who are currently protesting – really protesting – in the streets against the suppression of women’s rights in the country.

The actions of the Iranian players were, by anyone’s standards, incalculably brave; they will likely face repercussions in the aftermath of this tournament and considering human rights organisations estimate 400 demonstrators have been murdered to date, they surely have plenty to fear.

That the Iranian players were not deterred by that threat, never mind the suggestion of a yellow card, speaks volumes.

However, as the Iranians lined up to face Wales on Friday, they did sing their national anthem, to loud jeers from their fans.

Why they changed their stance, we may never truly know.

And so, thanks to FIFA’s stance of banning the rainbow armbands, the issue of these pro-LGBTQ+ protests persists; a few days ago, the German team, ahead of their match against Japan, covered their mouths pre-kick-off to signify they had been gagged by FIFA, while some wore rainbow laces in their boots.

That the Germans were not terrified into submission by the threat of “sporting sanctions” such as a yellow card should be applauded.

No one can ever be criticised for choosing to do something rather than nothing.

The images of the German players covering their mouths will, no doubt, linger in the memory far longer than their performance against Japan.

But, in the end, what is the point of these protests on the sporting field?

Will there be any long-lasting reverberations that actually help LGBTQ+ people specifically in Qatar but more widely, across the globe?

There is, remember, over 70 countries in which homosexuality is currently outlawed.

So what has been the point of the past week?

FIFA, certainly, has reassured anyone who had briefly forgotten that they are the lowest common denominator when it comes to moral standards.

God forbid they rile the hosts, even if it’s for a universally good and useful cause.

But regardless of whether the armbands had been worn uncontested by FIFA and the Qataris, or whether the players were forced to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community more furtively as they have been required to do, we should probably not fall into the trap of thinking these protests will change a single thing.

The problem, all too often, with protests within the sporting arena, is that the debate becomes about the act itself rather than the intended positive consequences.

The most widely-known sporting demonstration of recent years is the act of taking the knee, which was instigated by NFL player, Colin Kaepernick, in a protest against police violence against black people in the USA. It has since morphed into an anti-racism stance and has been mimicked by countless sportspeople across the world since the American first dropped to his knee six years ago.

Kaepernick’s intentions, and willingness to accept the consequences, cannot fail to be widely admired – he has lost his career as a direct result of taking the knee – but has it really changed anything?

Far more of the commentary is around the action itself, rather than the initial cause.

This is of no fault of Kaepernick’s, just as the intention of the rainbow armband was generally good.

By all means, athletes should be not only permitted but encouraged to protest; they have, after all, a platform few enjoy.

But let’s not overestimate the impact of these protests; unfortunately, a brightly coloured armband, whether permitted or not, is not going to change the world.