World Cup silent protest: Germany take a stand against Fifa and Qatar

‘Gagged’ German players hit back over OneLove armband dispute

Germany players covered their mouths in protest before their match against Japan
Germany players covered their mouths in protest before their match against Japan
(Image credit: Markus Gilliar/GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)

Germany’s opening game at the 2022 Fifa World Cup created headlines for a number of reasons – both in a sporting context and politically. While Japan’s 2-1 victory will go down in history as a huge shock result, what happened ahead of the group E fixture will equally be remembered for years to come.

Before the start of the World Cup in Qatar, seven European nations – including Germany, England and Wales – had planned for their captains to wear the “OneLove” rainbow armband during matches to “promote diversity and inclusion” in support of the LGBTQ+ community, said the BBC. However, football’s world governing Fifa made it “very clear” that it would impose “sporting sanctions” if captains wore the armbands on the field of play and the countries decided against the plan.

In a statement issued before the opening games, the football associations of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland said they could not put their players “in a position where they could face sporting sanctions” and were “very frustrated” by the Fifa decision, “which we believe is unprecedented”.

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‘Human rights are non-negotiable’

This World Cup is becoming “more politically charged by the hour”, said Oliver Brown in The Telegraph. And at the Khalifa International Stadium on Wednesday, Germany made the “most incendiary protest yet” to condemn the Gulf state’s “draconian laws against homosexuality”. In their pre-match photograph, the German players covered their mouths to suggest that “they had been gagged”.

In a defiant response, the DFB, Germany’s football federation, said the pre-match action was not about making a political statement. “Human rights are non-negotiable,” it said. “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.”

The “extraordinary gagging gesture” was not the only platform Germany found to “express their disgust” with the global governing body, Brown added. Several players, including captain Manuel Neuer and Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan, wore adidas boots with “three rainbow lines stitched down the middle” and in the stands Nancy Faeser, the country’s interior minister, “went even further” by “donning the very armband explicitly prohibited by Fifa as she sat directly on president Gianni Infantino’s left”.

“Let us make a prediction,” said Sean Ingle in The Guardian. That photograph of the German players with their hands over their mouths will “reverberate down the years and the generations”. Even if they go out of this World Cup in the first round, “some things just matter more”.

The situation is ‘intensifying’

After taking the protest to “a new level”, it is “understood” there will be “no formal disciplinary action” from Fifa, said Jamie Gardner in the Independent. The German gesture could have prompted action under Fifa’s disciplinary code, which states that anyone “using a sports event for demonstrations of a non-sporting nature” may be sanctioned.

Fifa’s move to stop captains wearing the One Love armband is “backfiring” in Qatar and the situation is “certainly intensifying”, said Matt Lawton in The Times. The German federation has “already threatened to take legal action” amid concerns among the seven countries, while Danish Football Association (DBU) chief Jakob Jensen revealed the nations were talking to their lawyers. “Now we’re looking into what are the legal options, we are coordinating our discussions on that as well,” he said.

Denmark has also said that it would not support the re-election of Gianni Infantino as Fifa president due to the “threats” regarding the armband. “There is only one candidate, and we’ll have to see if there’s another candidate,” said DBU president Jesper Moeller. “There is still time, but Denmark will not be supporting the current president.”

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