Metro Weekly

German World Cup Team Protests Sanctions for Pro-LGBTQ Armbands

The governing body of world soccer threatened to penalize teams that wore a "OneLove" armband to protest Qatar's anti-LGBTQ laws.

Members of the German soccer team hold a silent protest against Qatar’s human rights record at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. – Photo: German National Soccer Team, via Twitter.

Players from Germany’s World Cup national soccer team protested a ruling by FIFA, the governing body in the sport, prohibiting them from wearing armbands to protest host country Qatar’s record on human rights, especially LGBTQ rights.

While posing for a standard pregame photo at the Khalifa International Stadium on Wednesday before the team’s match against Japan, all 11 starters cupped their right hands to their mouth, referencing FIFA’s threat to impose “sporting sanctions” if captain Manuel Neuer wore a “OneLove” armband with a multi-colored heart, reports Yahoo! News.

The team posted the photo to its official Twitter account with the caption: “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,” the tweet continued. “We stand by our position.”

Germany was one of seven European nations that had adopted the “OneLove” armbands to protest Qatari laws that restrict the rights of LGBTQ individuals.

The armbands are part of a broader Dutch-led campaign protesting discrimination. The design of the armband, with a number one in the middle of a heart, signifies that all soccer fans have at least one thing in common: their love of the sport. The colors in the armband’s heart, which are similar, but not identical, to the colors in the traditional Pride flag (using black and pink instead of orange and purple), “represent everyone’s pride in their own origin, color, gender identity, and sexual orientation,” according to KNVB, the Royal Dutch Football Association.

While the seven soccer federations wrote to FIFA in September informing it of their plans to wear the “OneLove” armband, FIFA did not respond until last weekend, when it threatened to impose sporting sanctions on teams whose captains wore the armbands during games. While all seven teams have opted against wearing the armbands, some federations have criticized FIFA’s stance, with Germany being one of the most vocal critics. 

Germany’s soccer federation, the DFB, said on Tuesday that it would take FIFA to court over the suppression of players’ free speech rights, filing a complaint with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in the hope of obtaining a ruling that would allow Neuer to wear the armband. A day later, German politician Nancy Faeser wore the armband at Germany’s match against Japan — where she’d been invited to sit next to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. Germany eventually lost the match to Japan, 2-1.

Some online commenters criticized the team for placing more emphasis on making a political statement than the game, making remarks that disparaged the German players for not taking the match seriously enough. But despite the defeat, German player Kai Havertz defended the team’s actions, arguing that making a statement was important “to show the people that, yeah, we try to help whoever/however we can. And of course, FIFA makes it not easy for us.”

Fans, both in Germany and across Europe, have protested allowing Qatar to host the World Cup, in part because of the country’s laws criminalizing LGBTQ people, as well concerns about the deaths and repeated mistreatment of migrant workers and other human rights abuses. Defenders of the decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar — which is the first Middle Eastern nation to host the tournament — especially FIFA President Gianni Infantino, have accused Western nations of racism, prejudice, and hypocrisy regarding their own countries’ records on human rights. 

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