Football federations who had planned to wear the ‘OneLove’ armbands to make a statement against discrimination during the World Cup in Qatar were faced with “extreme blackmail” that led to dropping the planned action, the German Football Association (DFB) said on Tuesday.
The federations of England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark had said on Monday they had been put under pressure by FIFA, who had threatened to issue yellow cards to any player wearing the multi-coloured armband.
Homosexuality is illegal in the Gulf state.
The DFB’s media director Steffen Simon told German Deutschlandfunk radio that England, who had been the first team to be expected to wear it on Monday in their game against Iran, had been threatened with multiple sporting sanctions.
“The tournament director went to the English team and talked about multiple rule violations and threatened with massive sporting sanctions without specifying what these would be,” he said.
Simon, who did not specify if he was referring to local organizers or FIFA in his reference to the tournament director, said the other six nations then decided to “show solidarity” and not wear it.
“We lost the armband and it is very painful but we are the same people as before with the same values. We are not impostors who claim they have values and then betray them,” he said.
“We were in an extreme situation, in an extreme blackmail and we thought we had to take that decision without wanting to do so.”
The English team did not want to comment on this matter. FIFA did not immediately respond to Reuters when asked for comment. Local organizers were also contacted.
The reaction in Germany to the DFB’s U-turn has been one of scathing criticism, with supermarket chain REWE dropping its deal with the DFB.
The federation’s reputation has suffered in recent years with four previous presidents resigning amid corruption allegations and other scandals, or tarnished by them.
“I can understand the disappointment. We had the choice between the plague and cholera,” Simon said.
While the European nations decided to drop the armbands, the national team of Iran declined to sing their anthem before their opening World Cup match on Monday in a sign of support for mass protests back home and a violent state crackdown on the unrest.
“We have a lot of respect for what the Iran team did yesterday,” Simon said. “We feel with the Iranian women. Yes, we don’t have the symbol anymore but we still stand by the values associated with this symbol.
“The DFB is in a fundamental opposition within FIFA,” he said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was also asked about the issue on Tuesday, adding: “It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression.
“It’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion. And in my judgment, at least, no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team.
“Qatar made meaningful strides in recent years to improve its labor laws, to expand worker rights. The United States has been and will continue to be a consistent partner in those efforts.
“Of course, real work remains on these issues. And the United States will continue to work with Qatar on strengthening labor rights and human rights more broadly long after the World Cup is over.”