DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The German players covered their mouths for the team photo for their opening World Cup match on Wednesday to protest against FIFA following the governing body’s repression of the “One Love” bracelet.
The German team lined up in the traditional formation for the game against Japan and all 11 players covered their mouths with their right hands in a coordinated gesture.
“It was a sign from the team, from us, that FIFA is muzzling us,” Germany coach Hansi Flick said after the match, which his team lost 2-1.
The gesture was in response to FIFA’s effective abolition of plans for seven European teams to wear armbands which were seen as a rebuke to host country Qatar and its human rights record.
Team captains, including German captain Manuel Neuer, planned to wear the armband with the heart-shaped, multicolored logo, a symbol of inclusion and diversity. But the seven federations pulled out after FIFA made it clear they would face consequences if they did not.
“Our bands may be taken from us, but we will never allow our voices to 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 captaincy, but we always stand by 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.”
FIFA said Germany will face no disciplinary action for the gesture.
Against Japan, Neuer wore a armband with the FIFA-sanctioned “No Discrimination” slogan, though it was hard to see under the sleeve of his shirt. Neuer said it was too loose and it kept slipping.
The German Football Association posted a statement on Twitter during Wednesday’s game with its position.
“With our captaincy, we wanted to send a signal for values that we live in the national team: diversity and mutual respect. Being loud with other nations.
“It is not a political message: human rights are non-negotiable. That should be obvious. Unfortunately it still isn’t. That is why this message is so important to us,” said the federation. “To deny us the bracelet is like muzzling us. Our position stands.”
Qatar has come under fire for its human rights record and laws criminalizing homosexuality.
FIFA issued a warning to the federations on Monday, hours before England and the Netherlands were due to play with their captains wearing the “One Love” armbands. The governing body said the players would receive an immediate yellow card and face further consequences.
German Football Association president Bernd Neuendorf called the warning “another low blow” from FIFA.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who is also responsible for sports, wore a ‘One Love’ bracelet in the stands at the game against Germany, where she sat next to FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Faeser posted a photo of herself on Twitter wear it with the hashtag #OneLove.
The DPA news agency reported that Faeser wore the bracelet under a pink blazer that she took off in the first half.
Faeser previously criticized Qatar for forcing a German fan to remove a rainbow colored armband and headband at another match.
“This is inconsistent with my understanding of the security assurances I received from the (Qatari) interior minister,” Faeser said. “Safety must apply to all people. I am very disappointed about this.”
The rainbow flag is widely used as a symbol of tolerance regarding sexual diversity.
Faeser said “such symbols should be displayed openly.”
At a later match, Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib wore the “One Love” armband when she met Infantino during her country’s match against Canada. They also posted a picture of herself on Twitter with the band.