DOHA, Qatar — What FIFA lacks in a backbone, it makes up for in stupidity.
His grand plan to stop European players from showing their support for the LGBTQ community during the World Cup by threatening them with yellow cards is backfiring in spectacular fashion. Germany used their official team photo ahead of their opening game on Wednesday to mock the FIFA edict, and Manuel Neuer and several teammates wore boots with rainbow stripes painted on them.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, trolled FIFA President Gianni Infantino, wearing the “OneLove” armband as he sat next to him in a suite at Al Khalifa Stadium. A day earlier, former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt wore a dress with rainbow sleeves as she also sat next to Infantino.
The Danish FA chief even suggested leaving FIFA could be an option.
“It was not about making a political statement – human rights are not negotiable. This should be taken for granted, but it still isn’t. That’s why this message is so important to us,” said the The German team said in a statement accompanying his team photo, in which all the players covered their mouths with their hands.
“To deny us the armband is to deny us a voice. We maintain our position.
If FIFA had simply let players wear the “OneLove” armband during the World Cup, as they did during the European Championship, it would have been history for a day or two. Maybe three. But Infantino couldn’t let go, absolutely petrified by anything that might offend his sugar daddy, the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
So instead of a small gesture that, quite honestly, would have gone unnoticed by most people watching the World Cup, Infantino has turned the armbands into a cause celebre that will continue for as long as the tournament lasts. Chances are the fury will only escalate.
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TAKE THIS, FIFA:German players cover their mouths before the World Cup team photo
“It was the right sign to show people that, yes, we try to help however we can,” said German midfielder Kai Havertz. “And of course FIFA doesn’t make it easy for us.”
But the fiasco is self-made for FIFA.
Bringing a global party to a country where women are second-class citizens at best and where homosexuality remains illegal was always going to be problematic. FIFA made the situation worse by acquiescing as Qatar reneged on one promise after another, rather than explaining why hostility towards women and LGBTQ people would only create bigger problems.
By repressing these rather innocuous calls for tolerance – the armbands, the training shirts with the slogan “Human rights for all”, the word “Love” inside the collar of one of Belgium’s shirts – FIFA only drew more attention to them. Instead of appeasing national team players and officials, FIFA’s brutality only made them want to dig harder.
“We defend our values and human rights. We wanted to show that,” Neuer, who has been one of the most vocal supporters of the “OneLove” campaign, said after Wednesday’s game, according to The Athletic.
Of course, it might have annoyed the Qatari authorities to see those little strips of rainbow-colored fabric and to hear criticism of human rights abuses. But wouldn’t it have been far better if the whole world knew and repelled your intolerance?
A world you’re trying to entice to come visit you, I might add.
FIFA undoubtedly considered it a victory on Monday when Germany, England, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Wales announced that their players would not wear the armbands. lest this jeopardize their availability. But it was short-lived, as anyone could have predicted.
By trying to appease its hosts, FIFA only managed to make the Qataris even worse. It’s not his smartest move. Not smart at all.
Follow USA TODAY sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.