In a World Cup becoming more politically charged by the hour, Germany’s players made the most incendiary protest yet against their Qatari hosts, drawing hands across their mouths for the pre-match photograph to suggest that they had been gagged.
Germany, in common with six other European teams, had insisted on wearing “OneLove” rainbow armbands as a statement condemning the Gulf state’s draconian laws against homosexuality. But with Fifa threatening to issue yellow cards against anyone who did so, the four-time champions found their own way to put their point across with an extraordinary gagging gesture ahead of their match with Japan.
It was not the only platform they found to express their disgust with the global governing body. Several Germany players, including captain Manuel Neuer and Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan, also wore adidas boots with three rainbow lines stitched down the middle, with an additional multi-coloured stripe on their training kit. In the stands, Nancy Faeser, the country’s interior minister, went even further, donning the very armband explicitly prohibited by Fifa as she sat directly on president Gianni Infantino’s left.
In a defiant statement, the German federation, the DFB, said: “It wasn’t about making a political statement - human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted, but it still isn’t the case. That’s why this message is so important to us. Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position.”
It wasn’t about making a political statement – human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted, but it still isn’t the case. That’s why this message is so important to us.
Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position. pic.twitter.com/tiQKuE4XV7
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) November 23, 2022
Their intransigence now puts intense pressure on England, Wales, Holland and Denmark, all of whom initially signed up to the OneLove crusade, only to abandon it as soon as Fifa threatened sporting sanctions. England’s Harry Kane was due to be the first player to wear the armband at the World Cup in Monday’s game against Iran, but a directive from the Football Association - in conjunction with the six other national governing bodies - said that they would not ask the striker to wear it due to the risk of being automatically booked.
But the German side had been urged by Robert Habeck, the nation’s vice-chancellor, to resist any muzzling. “I suppose you have to wear the armband now,” he said. “I would maybe take my chances.”
An editorial in Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling daily newspaper, had issued a similarly strident message. “A team that wears the OneLove armband is one that doesn’t simply cave in,” it declared. Neuer was seen having his clothing closely inspected by an assistant referee, although he was wearing the “No Discrimination” armband officially approved by Fifa.
Germany protest in pictures
The DFB has announced that it plans to take legal steps against Fifa over the armband diktat, having already lodged a case questioning its validity at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. Its spokesman, Stefan Simon, claimed that Fifa had threatened “massive penalties” in response to any flouting of its rules.
An impetus also sprang from the outrage of the federation’s sponsors. Lionel Souque, the chief executive of Cologne-based retail chain REWE, said: “We stand for diversity. The scandalous behaviour of Fifa is, for me, as the CEO of a diverse company as well as a football fan, absolutely unacceptable.”