DOHA, Qatar — Germany’s players covered their mouths for the team photo before their World Cup opener against Japan on Wednesday in protest at FIFA’s refusal to allow rainbow-themed armbands.
Captains of seven European teams had planned to wear the anti-discrimination armbands during the tournament in Qatar as part of a campaign for LBGTQ rights but backed down over the threat of disciplinary action from football’s governing body, including yellow cards.
The rainbow armbands had been viewed as a symbolic protest against laws in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
Germany’s football federation said in a tweet moments after the photo protest that “human rights are not negotiable.”
“This is not a political position; human rights are not negotiable,” the DFB tweeted.
“To ban the armband is like banning our right to speak,” the federation added.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino was at the Khalifa International Stadium for the Germany-Japan match.
The German government spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, said earlier in the day in Berlin that FIFA’s decision to bar captains from wearing the “OneLove” armbands was “very unfortunate.”
“The rights of LGBTQ people are non-negotiable,” Hebestreit said at a regular press conference.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who was to attend the game in Doha against Japan, said FIFA’s ban was a “huge mistake.”
Not only players, but fans should also be allowed to show pro-LGBTQ symbols “openly,” she told reporters in Qatar.
Security staff at the World Cup have ordered spectators to remove items of clothing featuring rainbow logos.
Supporters should, however, “make a decision for themselves” about whether they wanted to wear the symbols, Faeser said.
Underlining tensions at the tournament over the issue, Belgium’s Jan Vertonghen said on Tuesday in Qatar that he was “afraid” to talk about human rights.
Vertonghen, speaking on the eve of Belgium’s opening game against Canada later Wednesday, said he did not feel comfortable.
“I’m afraid if I say something about this I might not be able to play tomorrow,” the defender said.
“It’s an experience I’ve never felt in football before. I feel controlled. I’m afraid to even say something about this.”
“We’re just saying normal things about racism and discrimination and if you can’t even say things about it, that says it all.”
“I want to appear on the pitch tomorrow, so I’ll leave it at that.”