A World Cup of protest and rancour has taken another incendiary turn with Germany’s players covering their mouths with their hands to suggest they had been gagged by football’s governing body, Fifa.
Their message was reinforced by the German interior minister, Nancy Faeser, who also wore a OneLove armband, which promotes tolerance, diversity and LGBTQ+ rights, as she sat next to Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino.
It was a calculated act of defiance against Fifawho has warned seven nations, including England and Wales, that they will face sporting sanctions if their captains wear OneLove armbands during matches.
Six players, including captain Manuel Neuer and Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan, also wore Adidas boots with rainbow stitching during the team’s shock 2-1 defeat against Japan, while the entire German squad sported tops with rainbow colors on their sleeves in the warm up.
In a strongly worded statement, the Germans made clear their anger, telling Fifa: “We wanted to use our captain’s armband to take a stand for values that we hold in the Germany national team: diversity and mutual respect. Together with other nations, we wanted our voice to be heard.
“It wasn’t about making a political statement – human rights are non-negotiable,” he added. “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.”
Same-sex relationships are illegal in Qatar and while organizers and Fifa have repeated the message that “everyone is welcome” during the World Cup (link)it is unclear whether laws that criminalize acts such as kissing in public have been suspended.
Similar levels of opaqueness exist when it comes to whether rainbow-colored flags and clothing are allowed, given the Qataris have taken such attire off some fans. The authorities are still yet to respond to a protest by the Football Association of Wales after fans had rainbow-colored bucket hats removed by security guards before the game against the USA.
Meanwhile, England are also understood to be monitoring the fallout from Germany’s decision closely, with the Football Association among the countries looking into whether it will be legally possible to challenge Fifa’s threat to impose sporting sanctions wearing the OneLove armband.
The FA is deeply unhappy that their captain Harry Kane faced the prospect of an instant booking had he given it against Iran. Fifa has not specified what sporting sanctions would have meant, but the FA was under the firm impression that Kane would have been booked.
“As a squad we all stand for it,” England’s goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, said. “We all wanted Harry to wear it, but I think the decision got taken out of our hands as a squad and as players. If Harry wore it and got a yellow card and missed the next game it’s not going to be ideal for us.”
It remains to be seen if England’s players decide to follow their German counterparts by mounting a different form of protest before playing the USA tomorrow. Gareth Southgate attempted to draw a line under the issue after his side’s 6-2 win over Iran, arguing that he and his players should be allowed to concentrate on their performances on the pitch.
Football’s governing body later confirmed it would not be censuring the German FA or their players for their protest.
Asked why they had decided to protest, manager Hansi Flick said: “It was a sign, a message we wanted to send out and we wanted to deliver the message that Fifa is silencing us.” Striker Kai Havertz also stressed how important it was for Germany’s players to promote diversity and tolerance. “Of course, it’s important for us to make a statement like this,” he said. “We spoke before the game about what we could do and for us it was the right sign to show the people that we try to help wherever we can. Of course, Fifa makes it not easy for us.”
Fifa did confirm that it had opened disciplinary proceedings against Ecuador over homophobic chanting by their fans in their World Cup opener against Qatar.