World Cup 2022: Germany players cover mouths in protest of FIFA's 'OneLove' armband ban before Japan match

DOHA, Qatar — Germany players protested FIFA’s suppression of their anti-discrimination messaging with a non-verbal statement of defiance ahead of their 2022 World Cup opener Wednesday.

While posing for a standard pregame photo at the Khalifa International Stadium, all 11 starters cupped their right hands to their mouth, an implicit reference to their Monday statement that FIFA had threatened them with “sporting sanctions” if captain Manuel Neuer wore a “OneLove” armband with a multi-colored heart.

Shortly after the photo was taken, the team’s official Twitter account posted it 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 concluded. “We stand by our position.”

Germany and six other European teams had adopted the armbands in light of Qatari laws that restrict the rights of LGBTQ people, among others. The armbands were part of a broader Dutch-led campaign against discrimination. The colors in the armband’s heart — which are similar, but not identical, to the ones that represent LGBTQ pride — “represent everyone's pride in their own origin, color, gender identity and sexual orientation,” the KNBV said in September.

The European federations wrote to FIFA that same month to detail their plans. FIFA, though, did not respond to or engage with the European federations until this past weekend, on the eve of the tournament. And when it did, it was “very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play,” the European nations, which also included England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland, said in their statement.

They all opted against wearing the armbands, but some have spoken out against FIFA’s stance — and none more vocally than Germany. After Wednesday's match, a 2-1 upset to Japan, Germany's Kai Havertz said the team felt 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 back home have vociferously protested the Qatar World Cup, which has been marred by controversies over LGBTQ rights, migrant labor rights and more. Players have often been asked to comment on those controversies, so much so that midfielder Joshua Kimmich admitted Tuesday that his “childhood dream” of playing in World Cups had been tainted by them.

Germany’s soccer federation, the DFB, also said Tuesday that it would take FIFA to court over the global soccer governing body’s suppression of the “OneLove” armbands. The DFB confirmed that it had filed a complaint with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and hoped to get a ruling that would allow Neuer to wear the armband during this World Cup.

A day later, German politician Nancy Faeser wore the armband to the game against Japan — where she’d been invited to sit next to FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 23: Germany players cover their mouths in protest as they pose for a team photo during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Germany and Japan at Khalifa International Stadium on November 23, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images)
Germany players cover their mouths in protest as they pose for a team photo during ahead of Wednesday's World Cup matchup versus Japan. (Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images)