By CIARÁN FAHEY
AP Sports Writer
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Germany’s players covered their mouths for their team photo before their opening World Cup match to protest against FIFA for its clampdown on seven teams’ plans to wear armbands that were seen as a rebuke to host nation Qatar’s human rights record.
The Germany team lined up in the traditional formation before Wednesday’s game against Japan and each of the 11 players covered their mouth with their right hand.
“It was a sign from the team, from us, that FIFA is muzzling us,” Germany coach Hansi Flick said after his team’s 2-1 loss to Japan.
The gesture was a response to FIFA’s warning to the seven European federations, including Germany’s, that players would be penalized if they wore colorful “One Love” armbands as a symbol for inclusion and diversity. Germany captain Manuel Neuer and the other six team captains had planned to wear the armbands for their opening games at the World Cup.
German soccer federation DFB tweeted a statement on its position during Wednesday’s game.
“With our captain’s armband, we wanted to send a signal for values that we live in the national team: diversity and mutual respect. Being loud together with other nations.
“It’s not a political message: human rights are nonnegotiable. That should be obvious. Unfortunately it still isn’t. That’s why this message is so important to us,” the federation said. “Denying us the armband is like muzzling us. Our stance stands.”
Qatar has been under scrutiny for its human rights record and laws criminalizing homosexuality.
Soccer’s governing body issued its warning Monday just hours before England and the Netherlands were set to play with their captains wearing the heart-shaped, multicolored logo of the “One Love” campaign. FIFA said the players would immediately be shown a yellow card and could face further consequences.
Germany coach Hansi Flick and soccer federation president Bernd Neuendorf were among those to criticize FIFA’s decision.
Neuendorf called the warning “another low blow” from FIFA. The governing body hasn’t commented on Wednesday’s gesture by the Germans.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who is also responsible for sports, wore a “One Love” armband in the stands at the Germany-Japan game, where she was sitting beside FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Faeser tweeted a photo of herself wearing it with the hashtag #OneLove.
News agency DPA reported Faeser had the armband on under a pink blazer that she took off during the first half.
Earlier, Faeser criticized Qatar for forcing a German fan to remove a rainbow-colored armband and headband at another game.
“This is not in line with my understanding of the security guarantees that I was given by the (Qatari) interior minister,” Faeser said. “Security must apply to all people. I’m very disappointed about this.”
The rainbow flag is a widely used as a symbol of tolerance with regard to sexual diversity.
Faeser said in her opinion “such symbols should be openly shown.”
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