DOHA, Qatar — Germany’s players covered their mouths in the official team photo ahead of Wednesday’s World Cup match to protest FIFA’s refusal to let European teams wear armbands that show support for the LGBTQ community.
The 11 starters for the game against Japan posed with their right hands covering their mouths, and the German team’s official Twitter account released the photo with the caption, “Armband or no armband, we stand by our position.”
“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,” the team wrote.
“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.”
Germany, England, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales announced Monday that they would not wear “OneLove” armbands at the World Cup after FIFA threatened players who wore them with yellow cards or removal from the field. The armbands, which feature a rainbow-colored heart, are meant to promote diversity and inclusion, and players wanted to wear them in Qatar, where homosexuality remains illegal.
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Germany captain Manuel Neuer has been one of the most visible supporters of the campaign. In addition to the photo protest, he wore his armband so high on his bicep that it was obscured by the short-sleeved shirt he wore. Photos showed the referee checking to make sure he was wearing a FIFA-approved armband.
European teams had told FIFA in September their players wanted to wear the armbands, and repeatedly pressed for an answer. But FIFA has been petrified of doing anything that could offend the hosts, and didn’t give a clear answer until the weekend.
The European associations were outraged with the threat of discipline, which they called “unprecedented,” but said they couldn’t risk it. A player disciplined for wearing the armband would be suspended for a game if he got a second yellow; Wales captain Gareth Bale would be out for Friday’s game against Iran under the scenario after he picked up a yellow in Monday’s game against the United States.
But if FIFA thought the issue would go away with its edict, it miscalculated. Badly. In addition to the photo protest, Nancy Faeser, Germany’s federal minister of the interior and homeland, posted a photo of herself wearing a “OneLove” armband while in the stands at Al Khalifa, where the game against Japan was played.