Manuel Neuer knew what it would mean to walk onto the field with the One Love armband. So did Harry Kane before him.
That’s why both the German goalkeeper and the English striker refrained from doing so, bowing to FIFA’s threats of a yellow card if they defied the sport’s governing body. But that doesn’t mean Germany – and Neuer – didn’t find a way to protest Qatar’s policies, and show support for the LGBTQ+ community.
The armband at the center of the controversy was designed to "use the power of football to promote inclusion and send a message against discrimination of any kind as the eyes of the world fall on the global game."
For FIFA it has been seen as a direct contradiction to the host country's stated anti-LGBTQ+ policies. The end result is, fearing leaving their teams in a complicated position, no team has actually worn it.
But that doesn’t mean the German team didn’t send a political message - though for them it was less so and more about standing up for human rights, which as the team made clear, are non-negotiable. The entire squad posed for the official match picture with their hands over their mouth, a message to FIFA, who is actively robbing them of their voice.
Neuer, meanwhile, wore rainbow cleats. So did a few other German players. German minister Nancy Faeser wore the armband while sitting in the stands. And though they would like to be discussing their protest – instead of a loss to Japan no one saw coming – it’s still important to point out that the team’s defiance of FIFA policies charts the way for other teams protesting Qatar’s human rights violations.
The host nation would love for everyone to forget the controversy surrounding their winning bid, the reports of mistreatment of workers and their general unfavorable human rights record. They would love it if all teams could just focus on football and allow them to clean up their image, which is pretty much the reason to host a World Cup anyway. It’s not even an innovative strategy – Russia did it four years ago, with tremendous success. All the goodwill they accrued was lost when they invaded Ukraine, but that doesn’t change the fact that Russia cleaned up its public image thanks to the World Cup, and that’s what Qatar hopes to do.
Hopefully, teams other than Germany hold them accountable. The World Cup is about football, yes, but we should all remember that football ends, and the people living in Qatar will continue to suffer long after the eyes of the world turn from the country. Now is the time to protest and perhaps, make a change.