Germany players protest FIFA© Twitter

Why Did Players Cover Their Mouths At The FIFA World Cup?

In case you missed it, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has banned players from sporting LGBTQ+ solidarity symbols at the World Cup in Qatar. Multiple European teams cancelled plans to wear rainbow-coloured armbands during the global football competition after the announcement.

The teams of England, Wales, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands announced that they had to forsake wearing their OneLove armbands symbolising “diversity and inclusion” shortly before their campaigns were scheduled to start on Monday, as per ESPN.

The gesture, as insignificant or small as it may seem, speaks volumes in Qatar, which has faced severe backlash from every corner of the world ever since it was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup. The country’s policies were also criticised back in 2010 due to its harsh criminalization of homosexuality and mass exploitation of migrant workers.

Although the teams said that they would be willing to pay a fine, FIFA tightened its reins and warned them just hours before the games commenced, that any player wearing an armband would be slapped with a yellow card. If a player receives two yellow cards, they are sent off the field and basically disqualified, which forced the players to oblige.

A joint statement from the countries’ football associations presented to media outlets shared that the teams were “very frustrated” by the decision, which they called “unprecedented.”

“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband,” the statement said. “However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.” The teams, despite strict warnings, pledged to show their support in other ways.

This included Germany players placing their hands over their mouths during a team photo ahead of their World Cup Group E game against Japan on Wednesday as the row over FIFA’s threat of sanctions over the “OneLove” armband continued.

All Germany players took part in the statement-making gesture in front of dozens of photographers on the pitch right before kickoff, after FIFA had threatened the teams with sanctions if they wore the armband symbolising diversity and tolerance.

“Of course it’s important for us to make a statement like this,” Germany striker Kai Havertz told ESPN post match. “We spoke about the game, what we can do, and I think first it was the right time to show the people that -- yeah we try to help wherever we can. Of course FIFA makes it not easy for us but we tried to show that.”

Team captains, including Germany captain Manuel Neuer, had planned to wear the armband with the heart-shaped, multicoloured logo.

“We may have our bands taken away from us, but we’ll never let our voices be taken from us,” Neuer said. “We stand for human rights. That’s what we wanted to show. We may have been silenced by FIFA regarding the captain’s armbands, but we always stand for our values.”

Neuer said the idea for the mouth-covering gesture came from the team.

“We really wanted to do something and we thought about what we could do,” Neuer said. “It was clear that we wanted to send a signal.”

That isn’t all, FIFA also demanded that the Belgian team get rid of the word “love,” which is embroidered on the collars of their away shirts. This was done even though the Belgian shirts didn’t have any affiliation with the OneLove initiative. A source said that FIFA was “not even open to negotiation and categorically refused to discuss the matter with the Belgian federation.”

Even attendees and journalists who travelled all the way to Qatar for the World Cup sporting insignia of the LGBTQ+ movement, have reportedly been refused entry and sent back. Journalist Grant Wahl shared an account of his experiences wearing a rainbow football shirt to Substack this week, and said “the security guards refused to let me in, detained me for 25 minutes and angrily demanded that I remove my T-shirt.” Similarly, Laura McAllister, a professor at Cardiff University, tweeted that her rainbow bucket hat was confiscated from her by security.

The bans on LGBTQ+ supporting accessories were justified by FIFA president Gianni Infantino via a rambling one-hour-long speech, a day prior to the World Cup’s opening match. “Today I feel Qatari,” Infantino said. “Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel like a migrant worker.” In response to criticisms of Qatar’s harsh anti-gay laws, Infantino said, “How many gay people were prosecuted in Europe? Sorry, it was a process. We seem to forget.”

That apart, we’re sure everyone agrees that there is no excuse for penalising teams that simply wanted to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community on a global stage in a peaceful manner. And now, it’s been turned into a dumpster fire fuelled by dirty politics it seems.