Germany fans had waited four years for their team to make a statement at the Qatar World Cup, but they weren’t necessarily thinking of the one that Hansi Flick’s side delivered in their opening game.
While the national team failed to banish the spectre of Russia 2018, where Germany’s World Cup campaign came crashing down in Kazan, the team at least ensured that they addressed a much more pressing issue here.
Four-and-a-half years after a 2-0 defeat by South Korea saw Germany’s catastrophic world title defence end in the group stage – and in shame – the four-time champions went some way to restoring pride before they had kicked a ball against Japan; which was just as well, given their actual kicking of the ball offered little to celebrate.
Lining up for their pre-game photograph ahead of this 2-1 loss to Japan, every Germany player covered their mouth, making clear their frustration at Fifa’s attempts to silence political dissections of this World Cup. Prior to that gesture, Flick’s players had sported rainbow sleeves on their training tops while warming up for this opening Group E tie, while – up in the stands – Germany’s Federal Minister of the Interior and Community, Nancy Faeser, wore the OneLove armband that Fifa has so adamantly tried to wipe from existence. She was, in fact, sat next to under-fire Fifa president Gianni Infantino.
Seven teams at the World Cup had intended for their captains to sport the rainbow-coloured OneLove band throughout this controversial edition of the world championship, showing their protest of the anti-LGBTQ+ laws and attitudes in host country Qatar, as well as the state’s alleged human-rights abuses; only for Fifa to threaten sporting punishment, i.e. yellow cards, if those players did not instead wear the governing body’s own alternative band.
With that suggestion of punishment coming on the eve of England’s opening match against Iran, the Three Lions retreated sheepishly. Gareth Southgate’s captain Harry Kane expressed frustration but ultimately wore Fifa’s armband.
The episode draped a daunting shadow over England’s bright performance on the pitch, a 6-2 demolition of Iran. England, in pursuit of their first men’s trophy since 1966, had made a statement, but not where it counted.
In contrast, Germany’s 2-1 defeat by Japan might have marked a concerning start to their bid for der fünfte Stern – a fifth star on their shirts – but they went some way to stepping up where it mattered. England placed pressure on their Group B rivals, but Germany have started to crank it up as regards Fifa.
They could have done more – captain Manuel Neuer, in the Germany goal, also went ahead with wearing Fifa’s armband – something noted by German outlet Bild, who deemed the team’s gesture “zu wenig” – “too little”.
However, their suggestive statement was accompanied by a literal one from the Deutscher Fussball-Bund (German FA), which has also hinted that it could take legal action against Fifa.
“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,” read the German FA’s statement on Wednesday. “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 than that, Germany have started to stand up. Others may yet follow.