The football World Cup in Qatar has only just started, but rather than serving as a source of entertainment, the 2022 tournament has become rife with politics. In Germany, it has provided the platform for the latest virtue-signalling competition. Ever since 2010—when it was announced that Qatar would be the host of the 2022 World Cup—the Arab nation has been criticized in Germany for a plentitude of human rights violations, including its mistreatment of gays and the inhumane working conditions of the migrant workers who built the stadiums for the tournament.
These violations, however, flew under the German radar when in April of this year Minister of Economy Robert Habeck (Greens) visited Qatar in a desperate attempt to strike a gas deal with the Sheiks in order to gain energy independence from Russia. Qatar, committed to long-term contractual obligations, and Germany, lacking the necessary LNG terminals to trade with Qatar, could not pull off a deal. Habeck returned empty-handed, freeing up German athletes and journalists to resume open criticism of Qatar’s discriminatory policies.
In the weeks prior to the World Cup, fervor intensified among the German athletic community which, feeling hypocritical about playing sport while the rights of gay people were suppressed, promised to wear “one love” armbands during the tournament in a show of solidarity with this community. German media, guilty of providing remote viewers a means for shameful complicity, discussed whether audiences should boycott the World Cup. Indeed, a few days before the opening of the tournament, German TV host Micky Beisenherz gave an interview in which he accused viewers of the World Cup in Qatar of “Hitlering along” (“Hinschauen ist Mit-Hitlern”) with the oppressive regime in Qatar.
But when FIFA, the international body responsible for overseeing and enforcing the rules of football, decided at the start of the tournament to punish players wearing the “one love” armband with a yellow card, the captain of the German national team, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, changed his mind and disbanded with the armband. Tweeters and journalists took to Twitter to express their disappointment under the hashtag #WMderSchande (in English, #WorldCupofDisgrace).
Some even started wearing the armband themselves. Besides sportscasters, many brave Germans—those currently not in Qatar—began sporting armbands with political messages. Even German Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser (SPD) was seen proudly displaying the armband during a game—a first for a German minister since 1945. It remains unclear whether this exercise in solidarity will prompt Qatari leadership to rework Sharia law to accommodate German sensibilities, or whether this will positively influence future gas negotiations by Robert Habeck.
What began as a popular movement has trickled over to corporate institutions, and several brave companies have followed suit, with the German supermarket chain Rewe among them. Rewe, after Neuer’s refusal to wear the armband was announced, cancelled its sponsorship of the German national team. At least that was the media spin that was intended. In reality, Rewe had already decided in October—when Neuer was still planning to wear the armband—not to extend the expiring contract. But nevermind that—Neuer’s choice provided the opportunity to virtue-signal, and in a press release, Rewe referred to FIFA’s “scandalous position” as being “absolutely not acceptable.”
One day prior to Germany’s debut at the World Cup on November 23rd, striker Thomas Müller took to his Instagram account and gave fans, who expected professional athletes to give up their lifelong dreams of competing at a World Cup for a political point, a hard pass: “Those people will be disappointed,” the experienced striker said.
Unsurprisingly, German journalists on Twitter aired their disappointment that footballers would choose to play sport over dying on a political hill.
When the German team stepped out to face their challenger from Japan, they began with a brave gesture: all players covered their mouths during the team photo. It was presumed to be a silent commentary on FIFA’s muzzle policy, although, owing to Germany’s persistent affection for COVID masks, it could have been a reminder to those in the stadium to ‘mask up.’
The game ended with a 2-1 victory for Japan. More worrying than the home team’s loss though were the 9.23 million Germans who may have “Hitlered along” by watching the game. The German team will play Spain next, a contest which for the Germans, if they lose, will mean elimination from the tournament. Defeat, in this case, may be a good sign for democracy, as it just might suppress those Hitlering numbers.
In other worrying developments, a group of English fans dressed as crusaders were detained by Qatari police on November 22nd. Neither King Charles III, nor Pope Francis was available to comment on this setback of the West’s Christianization efforts in the Middle East.