German vice-chancellor backs armband protest at World Cup

Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck counselled the German men's national team to wear the "OneLove" armband banned by FIFA as they prepare to face Japan at the World Cup on Wednesday.

Germany football fans LGBT rights
Germany fans wear a rainbow armband ahead of the match in Qatar. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

“I suppose you have to wear the armband now. I would maybe take my chances,” Habeck told German public broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday evening.  “I would be interested to see what the referee does when someone with the armband comes over.”

The rainbow armbands had been viewed as a symbolic protest against laws in World Cup host Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.

Captains of several European teams had planned to wear the symbol as part of a campaign for diversity during the tournament hosted by Qatar, but they have backed down over the threat of disciplinary action from FIFA, world football’s governing body.

The teams have however come under fire at home for failing to take a stronger stand against FIFA’s stance on the armbands.

READ ALSO: Germany turns rainbow-coloured in protest at UEFA stadium ban

Amid the criticism, national team director Oliver Bierhoff suggested that some action by the German players may be possible.

“We will see. This has preoccupied the players a lot,” he told public broadcaster ARD on Wednesday.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who will attend the Germans’ opening game in the Qatari capital Doha, said FIFA’s ban was a “huge mistake”.

Not only players, but fans too should be allowed to show pro-LGBTQ symbols “openly”, she told reporters in Qatar Wednesday.

Security staff at the tournament have ordered spectators to remove items of clothing featuring rainbow logos.

Supporters should “make a decision for themselves” about whether they wanted to wear the symbols, Faeser said.

Meanwhile, Germany’s top-selling Bild daily also urged the German team to make a public stand for diversity.

In a commentary, it said the “courage trophy” can be won by those “who give this World Cup back its dignity”.

“A team that wears the ‘OneLove’ armband and that doesn’t simply cave in. A fan terrace that appears in rainbow colours, a sportsman who turns his national anthem in a song that honours both his country and freedom,” it said.

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Germany’s once fearsome World Cup reputation in tatters

Perhaps the most damning indictment in the inquest into Germany's second consecutive exit from a World Cup at the group stage came from 23-year-old forward Kai Havertz, who said simply, "I don't think we're a tournament team anymore".

Germany's once fearsome World Cup reputation in tatters

With four World Cups and three European championship wins, Germany’s reputation for turning up when it truly matters was once so well-earned, there is a word for it in German: Turniermannschaft, or “tournament team”.

After Hansi Flick’s team crashed out in Qatar, having never really recovered from a stunning opening 2-1 defeat to Japan, that reputation is in tatters.

Germany crashed out four years in Russia and also went out in the last 16 in last year’s European Championship.

So just 18 months away from hosting the next Euros in 2024, they are in the unfamiliar position of being outsiders for a tournament held on home soil.

The 4-2 win against Costa Rica on Thursday was too little, too late. Germany needed Spain to at least draw with Japan but the Spanish went down 2-1 and Germany lost out on goal difference.

As the dejected squad boarded a plane from Doha back to Frankfurt on Friday, German Football Association (DFB) President Bernd Neuendorf refused to guarantee that Flick’s job was secure, while hinting that the root cause of the problems ran much deeper.

Neuendorf announced a series of inquiries into “the development of the national team and our football since 2018”.

The DFB would “look ahead” with a focus on “developing perspectives (for) the Euros in our own country.”

Germany's players (from left) Armel Bella-Kotchap, Kai Havertz, David Raum, Christian Günter, Leon Goretzka and Niklas Süle sit on the bench after the match against Costa Rica in Qatar.

Germany’s players (from left) Armel Bella-Kotchap, Kai Havertz, David Raum, Christian Günter, Leon Goretzka and Niklas Süle sit on the bench after the match against Costa Rica in Qatar. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

Flick, who said on Thursday he wanted to stay in his job but knew “it isn’t up to me”, called for an overhaul of the junior development system.

Starkly, he recognised that Jamal Musiala, one of the few bright sparks in Qatar, “was not trained in Germany, he was trained in England”. The Bayern Munich teenager represented England at youth level before switching to Germany.

‘End of a football nation’

Germany’s newspapers roundly criticised the team’s performance with tabloid Bild lamenting that: “On this December 1st, 2022, we witnessed the end of a once great and proud football nation.”

The lukewarm reaction to the tournament from German fans should also concern German football administrators.

The team’s backtracking on the planned “OneLove” rainbow armband, designed as a protest at Qatar’s laws on homosexuality, went down badly at home.

An average of 14.7 million tuned in to watch the three games — well down on the 25 million four years ago.

The German public has not fallen out of love with football completely — 17.9 million tuned in to see Germany’s 2-1 loss to England in the women’s Euros in July.

‘We lack German efficiency’

National set-up director Oliver Bierhoff, who scored two goals in the Euro 1996 final when Germany last won the tournament, lamented the wastefulness in front of goal.

Germany dominated possession against Japan but missed countless chances.

The side “lacked the German efficiency that we’ve always had”, Bierhoff said.

Jurgen Klinsmann, a 1990 World Cup winner and former Germany coach, said the side “didn’t deserve to go through” while recognising the short turnaround to the 2024 Euros “may be a good thing, helping them to re-focus quickly”.

Another World Cup winner, Bastian Schweinsteiger, slammed the side’s poor defence, highlighting that Germany has not kept a clean sheet at the World Cup since the 2014 final it gloriously won in Rio de Janeiro.

“If you don’t defend well, you won’t advance and you won’t win,” Schweinsteiger said.

Captain Manuel Neuer, 36, said “today we did everything that was asked of us”, while striker Niclas Fuellkrug said Germany was eliminated “because we fell asleep a little bit against Japan.”

Joshua Kimmich hinted at deeper problems, saying “we can’t always talk about bad luck” while Real Madrid defender Antonio Ruediger insisted the “hard reality we find ourselves in” was to do more with attitude than talent.

“We have plenty of talent, but we need more than just talent. We need a little bit of greed, a little bit of filth, that’s what we are missing.

The once steely masters of tournament football had, he said, become “a very, very friendly team”.