Tobias Karlsson
Swedish handball player Tobias Karlsson wearing a rainbow armband during a friendly game against Czech Republic in January 2016Reuters

As the European Handball Championship gets underway in Poland, Swedish captain Tobias Karlsson has been forced to abandon his pledge to wear a rainbow-coloured armband. Last week the skipper said that he would sport the item "as a quiet manifestation for acceptance and that every person is of equal worth" – the rainbow flag represents equality for the gay population.

The tournament began on Friday (15 January), but on the eve of the event Karlsson was informed that a new rule has been implemented, meaning that the captain's armband can only feature the country's colours. In October 2015, Poland's conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) won the country's parliamentary elections and does not recognise same-sex relationships or marriage.

Following news that he would not be allowed to show his support for what he describes as "humanity", Karlsson told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that the decision was "a real shame". He added: "It is sad that the EHF [European Handball Federation] chooses that path and does not allow us to express our feelings about humanity and how I think people should be treated.

"I have to say I am surprised. We were told only a few days ago that it was OK to wear the armband. Norway and Iceland's captains have been in touch about also wearing one so we sent a few to them," Karlsson continued.

EHF Vice-President, Arne Elovsson said: "My interpretation is that this question has never been raised before. Now that it was raised one had to make a decision and go back to the rules and try to interpret them from a global perspective. That is the explanation. There is logic in this and they were unanimous in their decision," he added. Elovsson did not take part in the process behind the decision, according to reports.

Sweden kicks off its championship campaign on 16 January and will face off against Slovenia in Wroclaw, western Poland's largest city. In terms of the armband decision, Karlsson said: "I am not quite sure what we will use now. The two other armbands we have are red-and-white and black."