German national team captain Manuel Neuer wasn’t able to wear the OneLove armband during the country’s first match at the 2022 World Cup.
That didn’t, however, mean the country couldn’t take a stand.
Before Wednesday’s contest against Japan, Neuer and his teammates lined up to take their customary pre-match group picture. While doing so, they put their hands over their mouths, effectively announcing that were being silenced in their quest to fight for human rights.
Why is Germany protesting and what does their protest mean? Here’s everything to know about one of the underlying subplots at the 2022 World Cup.
MORE: Everything to know about the OneLove armband controversy
Why is Germany protesting at the World Cup 2022?
Germany is protesting FIFA’s decision not to let team captains at the 2022 World Cup wear the OneLove armband without being sanctioned by the governing body.
Before the tournament, eight World Cup team captains, including German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, were planning to wear the armband to protest the illegality of same-sex relationships in Qatar. The Dutch FA says the armband represents “everyone’s pride of their heritage, race, gender identity and sexual orientation.”
However, FIFA did not grant permission for players to wear the armband at the tournament. The governing body announced there would be sanctions against those who wore it, and said players doing so could receive a yellow card.
As such, Germany organized a different type of protest. Before their tournament-opening matchup against Japan, the team’s players covered their mouths as they took the customary pregame group photo.
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. We stand by our position. pic.twitter.com/tiQKuE4XV7
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) November 23, 2022
The German national team issued a statement about the protest on social media, confirming that it was, in fact, about the country’s inability to wear the OneLove armband.
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. 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.
MORE: Qatar local laws and regulations on alcohol, sex for 2022 World Cup
Why did FIFA ban the OneLove armband?
FIFA banned the OneLove armband of the organization’s rules on making of political statements or gestures using equipment or kits. Simply put, they are not allowed under FIFA’s current regulations.
FIFA’s leadership urged countries to focus on matters on the pitch instead of politics ahead of the tournament, and has lauded itself for being “politically neutral”.
But why is the OneLove armband viewed as a political statement? It once again has to do with the fact that the tournament is in Qatar. The armband’s support of same-sex relationships — which are illegal in the country — is the root of the issue for FIFA in approving the band.
It’s also part of the reason that the governing body has allowed Qatar to confiscate rainbow-themed, pro-LGBTQIA+ paraphernalia at the World Cup despite previous assurances from the country that they wouldn’t do that.
That said, as England manager Gareth Southgate explained in September, the armband isn’t just about supporting LGBTQIA+ rights; it was meant to reflect on the general human rights issues within Qatar, too.
“We’ve done a lot of research, the FA have had countless meetings with NGOs, migrant workers in Qatar, they’ve gathered all the information and requests of people affected. There’s a limit to what can be achieved,” Southgate said.
“Talking about the issues and raising the issues and putting them on the table is the vehicle that people involved in sport have used in the past, and it is what we’re trying to do this time.
“There will always be criticism, whatever you do, but we’re trying to affect the areas we’ve been asked to affect.”
MORE: David Beckham’s controversial World Cup role
What Manuel Neuer wore instead of OneLove armband
Neuer, a long-time star keeper for the German team, was originally planning to wear the OneLove armband. However, after that was banned, he pivoted to another FIFA-approved option.
Against Japan, Neuer wore a “No Discrimination” armband. The governing body allows players to wear that, so the 36-year-old did not find himself subject to any sanctions during the contest.
Germany captain Manuel Neuer wore the FIFA-approved ‘No Discrimination’ armband and as a result did not receive a yellow card.
📸[Dave Shopland/Shutterstock] pic.twitter.com/gujGwVQ7pT
— Sam Street (@samstreetwrites) November 23, 2022
That said, the match officials did check to make sure that Neuer was wearing an approved armband before the game, as shown by Sam Street.
The Germany vs Japan linesman making sure Manuel Neuer is wearing the ‘correct’ armband. pic.twitter.com/3Gm9NIWBCC
— Sam Street (@samstreetwrites) November 23, 2022
It’s notable that FIFA not only has a list of supported armbands, but they are set to add some more as the tournament goes along as an olive branch of sorts to the players. They are as follows:
An armband row is brewing. With England and nine other European nations committed to wearing a ‘One Love’ armband, FIFA have announced their own armband supporting various social campaigns in each round. pic.twitter.com/WmHs4Hpdxi
— James Olley (@JamesOlley) November 19, 2022
Still, that may not prove enough to appease the upset players. The international players’ union FIFPRO acknowledged that it stood with the German team’s protest and believes that players should be able to wear the message.
“Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position.”#FIFPRO stands with the German team in protest of FIFA’s decision to prevent @Manuel_Neuer from wearing the One Love armband.#FIFAWorldCup pic.twitter.com/EEPDBwpnDl
— FIFPRO (@FIFPRO) November 23, 2022
MORE: The 10 biggest World Cup upsets in tournament history
Did any Germany player wear the OneLove armband?
No players wore the armband for fear of getting a yellow card. However, a key member of Germany’s delegation decided to wear it to the contest.
That would be German Interior minister Nancy Faeser, who donned it while watching the match from the word.
German Interior minister Nancy Faeser, who can’t get a yellow card, wearing a one love armband day next to Gianni at Germany Japan today. https://t.co/sS0rVNgxa0
— tariq panja (@tariqpanja) November 23, 2022
Certainly, that’s a good loophole to the rule and players, coaches and others look to fight for human rights while playing in Qatar.