German football association president Bernd Neuendorf took responsibility for the controversy around the OneLove armband topic at this year’s Men’s World Cup, while also emphasizing gains the DFB made in pressuring FIFA to take action in support of migrant workers.
“I think I would clarify that well before a tournament. We asked FIFA in September if we could wear the armband and there was no feedback, the topic was carried into the tournament,” Neuendorf said (via @iMiaSanMia). “In retrospect, I’d have acted differently. We should have sought direct contact with President [Gianni] Infantino and a binding statement. I would do that differently. That might be easier when I join the FIFA Council in March, even though I spoke to Infantino several times.”
Infantino famously told an assembled press corps in Doha not to criticize the host nation while declaring — from his position as president of FIFA — “Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel [like] a migrant worker” — in an apparent attempt at signaling solidarity towards the marginalized. Europeans, Infantino reminded, had plenty to apologize for themselves — apparently the reason that they therefore should stay quiet now. (“I feel like a woman too!” he added later.)
In being content with “no feedback” and not having a go-to backup plan established, the DFB ultimately were left scrambling with FIFA’s late decision to disallow the armband shortly before the tournament start — after Germany, among other teams, had vocally declared their support for it. The DFB relented along with England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark, citing a need to protect players from unspecified FIFA sanctions — but in turn leaving players in the uncomfortable position of having spoken out and then be asked to do nothing.
Where the DFB did not take action, the German team ultimately did. A few players organized their own protest, taken as a team, against being silenced by FIFA. But in the aftermath of their sporting defeat at the World Cup some have been eager to blame an apparent lack of unity in the national team camp on the topic. The recriminations have more often been directed at Bayern Munich’s Leon Goretzka and Manuel Neuer, players who reportedly led the push for taking a stand for LGBTQ+ people anyway, rather than those who were initially reluctant.
Values, it seems, are easiest to hold when it is convenient to do so — and not when sporting spoils are perceived to be on the line.
Still, Neuendorf emphasized this isn’t the only front of pressure the DFB applied towards FIFA in relation to the Qatar World Cup, and that some gains were indeed made.
“But not everything we said towards Qatar was wrong in the first place. We wanted a compensation fund for the workers who were injured and killed building the stadiums, and a migration center for any workers who needed assistance. FIFA took up both,” Neuendorf added. “There will be a permanent office for migrant workers and an effective system for paying compensation. If we Europeans hadn’t always vigorously campaigned for this, it probably wouldn’t have happened. There’s a certain amount of progress in that respect.”