Germany’s football federation has said it plans legal steps against Fifa over its banning of OneLove rainbow armbands at the World Cup as it faced the humiliating decision by one of the country’s largest supermarket chains to cut its commercial ties over the row.
The DFB refused to let players in Qatar wear the armbands promoting diversity and inclusion after threats from the world football governing body to issue yellow cards to team captains, but faced a swift reaction, including from the supermarket chain REWE, which became the first sponsor to take direct action as it said it would drop its advertising campaign in protest at the decision.
The DFB’s spokesperson, Stefan Simon, confirmed to the tabloid Bild that it had lodged a case over legal validity of the decision at the international sport court, CAS, in Lausanne.
“Fifa has forbidden us from using a symbol of diversity and human rights. It said the ban would be linked to massive penalties (in the nature of) sporting sanctions without concretising exactly what it meant. The DFB is keen to clarify whether Fifa’s procedure is in fact legitimate,” he said.
Simon said the DFB hoped to overturn the ban by the time of Germany’s second match against Spain on Sunday, re-establishing its captain Manuel Neuer’s right to wear the OneLove symbol without facing penalties.
REWE in a statement before the DFB announced its legal action said it wanted to unambiguously distance itself from the position taken by Fifa and the statement made by its president, Gianni Infantino, at the weekend where he accused the west of “hypocrisy” in its reporting about Qatar’s human rights record.
Linoel Souque, the chief executive the Cologne-based retail chain, which has annual global sales of €76.5bn (£66bn), said the company could not accept Fifa’s stance. “We stand for diversity and football is diversity. The scandalous behaviour of Fifa is for me as the CEO of a diverse company as well as a football fan absolutely unacceptable,” he said.
The DFB’s decision was made after Fifa threatened sanctions against its participating clubs, including issuing yellow cards to players, if they failed to comply. Germany, England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Wales and Denmark all withdrew their plans to allow their captains to wear the armbands.
DFB’s president, Bernd Neuendorf, said: “In my opinion this is something of a display of power by Fifa. We see this as more than frustrating as well as being an unprecedented event in the history of the World Cup.”
The telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom said on Tuesday it was planning to talk to the DFB, though did not say what action it might be prepared to take. Volkswagen, Adidas, Lufthansa and Commerzbank, the DFB’s other commercial partners, are also under pressure to react.
The row reflects a generally downbeat and often angry mood in Germany towards the tournament being hosted in Qatar. Protests have included street demonstrations and one stadium lighting 20,000 candles at the weekend for Qatar migrant workers who have died, many in the process of building facilities for the World Cup.
Some German pubs and bars are refusing to show the tournament while others have announced they will donate the proceeds of their alcohol sales towards migrant worker charities.
REWE had told the DFB last month that it was not going to extend its years’ long contract with the DFB, but did not mention a connection with the World Cup.
The sticker album currently available at stores as well as the packets of stickers to go in it will be available for free with immediate effect, Souque said. Any money already made from sticker album sales will be donated to an appropriate cause, he added.
Souque said the supermarket nevertheless wished the German team well. “We’re on your side and are rooting for you,” he said.
In surveys, more than half of Germans are in favour of boycotts of the World Cup, by spectators, sponsors and politicians. The majority have said they would not be watching matches on television and there has been much criticism towards the public broadcaster for paying around €200m for the broadcasting rights to show the tournament. Many politicians who had been scheduled to go to Qatar are now not doing so.
The real test of how feelings are among football fans will be Wednesday afternoon’s match between Japan and Germany.
Nancy Faeser, Germany’s interior minister, called the armband ban a “massive mistake” by Fifa. “It breaks the heart of every fan to see how Fifa is also putting the burden of this on to the shoulders of the players,” she said.
Theo Zwanziger, a former DFB president, told Bild: “I’m happy that the DFB is now defending itself against the extraordinary machinations of Fifa president Gianni Infantino and is taking its case to the CAS. Anything else would have only done further damage to the credibility of the DFB,” he said.