Germany players covered their mouths during their team photograph ahead of their opening World Cup match in protest against FIFA’s ban on OneLove armbands.
The gesture came after the German football association (DFB) told captain Manuel Neuer not to wear the rainbow armband for the game against Japan on Wednesday following FIFA’s warning they would face “massive” sporting sanctions if he wore the armband, which promotes diversity and inclusion.
Germany head coach Hansi Flick said his players wanted to “convey the message that FIFA is silencing us”.
They will not face disciplinary action from FIFA for their pre-match gesture.
The DFB is taking FIFA to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over its ban on OneLove armbands.
A quick decision by CAS ruling against the validity of the ban could mean Neuer would be able to wear the armband for Germany’s second group game against Spain on Sunday.
A special ad hoc division of CAS set up for this World Cup aims to make decisions within 48 hours of receiving an application.
Germany’s interior minister Nancy Faeser, who was sitting close to FIFA president Gianni Infantino in the VIP box, wore a OneLove armband in support of the national team.
The Football Association has declined to comment on whether it will follow Germany’s lead and make the ‘covered mouth’ gesture before England’s next match against the United States.
The DFB lost one of its commercial partners on Tuesday when German supermarket chain REWE ended its sponsorship deal over the armband dispute.
REWE chief executive Lionel Souque said: “We stand for diversity and football is diversity. The scandalous behaviour of FIFA is for me as the CEO of a diverse company, as well as a football fan, absolutely unacceptable.”
The news came after the DFB said teams planning to wear the OneLove armband during their matches were subjected to “extreme blackmail”.
The DFB’s media director Steffen Simon told Deutschlandfunk radio that England, who were the first team planning to wear it, had been threatened with multiple sporting sanctions.
“The tournament director went to the English team and talked about multiple rule violations and threatened with massive sporting sanctions without specifying what these would be,” he said.
Simon, who did not say if he was referring to Qatari organisers or FIFA in his reference to the tournament director, said the other six nations then decided to “show solidarity” with England and not wear it.
“We lost the armband and it is very painful but we are the same people as before with the same values. We are not impostors who claim they have values and then betray them,” he said.
“We were in an extreme situation, in an extreme blackmail and we thought we had to take that decision without wanting to do so.”
FA and FAW retain plans for LGBTQ+ support in Qatar
The FA and the FAW have not given up on their plans to show a message of support for the LGBTQ+ community while at the World Cup in Qatar – despite backing down in their dispute with FIFA over the OneLove armband.
High-level discussions continued until a few hours before kick-off in England’s opening game against Iran, before the FA admitted defeat and decided Harry Kane should not wear the heart-shaped logo with rainbow colours.
FIFA threatened “sporting sanctions” if Kane or any of the other seven European nations involved wore the armband.
Article 13.8.1 of the FIFA Equipment Regulations states: “For FIFA Final Competitions, the captain of each team must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA.”
Sky Sports News was told FIFA officials were adamant wearing the OneLove armband would be a straightforward breach of its rules, and if it was allowed, it would set a precedent for other nations to wear any political message they wanted on the armband.
Furthermore, despite reports suggesting Kane might have been booked for wearing a non-FIFA armband, Sky Sports News understands the sanction might have actually been much stronger – possibly a one-match ban.
FIFA described itself as an “inclusive organisation” when contacted by Sky Sports News, while president Gianni Infantino has reiterated his support of the LGBTQI+ community during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
“I have been speaking about this subject with the country’s highest leadership,” Infantino said.
“They have confirmed, and I can confirm that everyone is welcome. If anyone says the opposite, well it’s not the opinion of the country and it’s certainly not the opinion of FIFA.”
But FA officials are known to be furious about the late decision around whether or not they could wear the OneLove armband, which embarrassed them after they had committed to wear the armband whatever punishment came their way.
Had it been a financial penalty that was threatened, the FA was prepared to accept it. But on Monday, they felt it was unfair to risk Kane’s involvement in the tournament, in order to keep their promise and make a stance.
Suggestions have been made maybe Gareth Southgate could wear the OneLove armband on the touchline for the next game against USA, even though this again would likely be sanctioned by FIFA.
Another option may be for Kane, or other England players, to wear the armband during training, in front of the cameras.
There has been no comment from the FA on either of those possibilities.
The FAW felt it was backed into a corner by FIFA on Monday having, like England, made it very clear since September that the captain of Wales at the World Cup would wear the OneLove armband.
Following Monday’s dramatic 1-1 draw with the USA in their opening match, the FAW intends on having discussions about how it could send and show another message to replace the OneLove idea. Nothing definitive has been decided though.
The FAW remains deeply disappointed and frustrated by FIFA’s late intervention on the armband.
FIFA confirmed its No Discrimination campaign has been brought forward from the planned quarter-finals stage in order for all 32 captains to have the opportunity to wear this armband during the tournament.
European teams jointly considering legal options
‘FIFA deliberately ignored request to avoid two months of criticism’
Sky Sports News reporter Rob Dorsett speaking on the Sky Sports World Cup podcast:
“It’s still going to be a big story going forward from here; we’re going to be talking as much about the political situation around this World Cup as we are the football, let’s be honest.
“The English FA, the Welsh FA and all of the other FAs from the other European nations went to FIFA with this and wrote to them more than two months ago. It was September when they first mooted the idea and FIFA didn’t respond.
“FIFA have been heavily criticised for that, leaving it until the last minute. FIFA came back to England, Wales and the other nations yesterday (Monday) to say they couldn’t do it.
“My understanding is that FIFA did that deliberately because if they’d turned down the request two months ago, FIFA would’ve had a good kicking for the next two months by various groups of supporters who felt it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right. And FIFA would hide behind the rules and say ‘the rules are there, just read them’.
“The FA aren’t accepting that and I don’t think either of them come out of this situation without being justifiably criticised.”
Kane: Decision was taken out of my hands
England captain Harry Kane reiterated the fact he and his team-mates will continue to make a stand, but recognised the ultimate decision in this case was out of his hands.
“We’re disappointed. We wanted to wear it, that decision was taken out of my hands. I turned up to the stadium with the armband that I wore and I was told I had to wear that.
“Look, it’s out of our control as players. I’m sure the FA and FIFA will continue those discussions but most importantly today we focused on the game and got a great result.
“You’ve seen over the last five years we’ve made a stand as a squad and we’ll continue to do that as much as we can. We took a knee today as well but sometimes these decisions aren’t up to us and that’s the bottom line.”
‘FIFA has let Wales down; the Welsh FA are angry’
Sky Sports News reporter Geraint Hughes speaking on the Sky Sports World Cup podcast:
“The FAW are fuming. They are really not happy. They made it very clear they wanted to wear the OneLove armband and have been trying for two months to get an answer from FIFA about whether they would allow them to wear it legally.
“They thought the rules, like everyone else, meant they might pick up a fine. They had no idea about the potential for a yellow card or even the potential for FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee to impose a one-match ban.
“It all happened on the morning of the matches, certainly for both England and Wales. They are really pretty angry, irritated – and that’s not just the senior execs, that’s throughout the FAW. FIFA has let them down.”
Van Dijk on armband: I couldn’t risk booking
Virgil van Dijk has hit back at claims the Netherlands and other countries have been spineless in the anti-discrimination armband controversy.
Netherlands skipper Van Dijk told Dutch broadcaster NOS: “I play in a position where a yellow card is not useful. I became a football player and I want to play these kind of tournaments.
“There are people who say we don’t have a backbone, but that’s not how it works,” the Liverpool defender added.
“We just want to play football. I would have loved to play with that band, but not at the expense of a yellow card.”