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Opinion: It's about more than a rainbow heart on an armband

Gerstenberger Olivia Kommentarbild App
Olivia Gerstenberger
November 21, 2022

The controversy surrounding the One Love armband is tragic, according to DW reporter Olivia Gerstenberger. It’s also emblematic of everything that this World Cup is not: diversity, tolerance and freedom of opinion.

https://p.dw.com/p/4JpyO
The One Love armband
The One Love armband, which the captains of seven nations was due to wear in Qatar.Image: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa/picture alliance

What is a campaign worth if it crumbles under the threat of sanctions? What value is held by campaigns that are run peacefully and unanimously in democratic countries but not where it actually matters? 

Seven national soccer teams wanted to set an example by representing "Western" values at the World Cup in Qatar: the Netherlands, from where the campaign originated, England, Wales, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark and also Germany.

The "One Love" captain's armband was a vital component of the message as outlined by Germany's captain Manuel Neuer amongst others. An armband with a colorful striped heart and the words "One Love" — a sign against homophobia, antisemitism and racism and for human rights. Now all seven associations have folded. Why? Because they fear the sporting consequences.

FIFA's show of force

Sporting sanctions, such as a yellow card for wearing an article of clothing? Or even points docked during the tournament? That's crazy, but it's actually possible because the FIFA armband with its own messages is considered an official piece of clothing according to World Cup regulations. Wearing "incorrect" clothing can be sanctioned by the referee.

FIFA has made it clear that captains could even be forced to leave the field, according to a joint statement from the seven federations. As a result, they are advising their captains not to wear the armband because they do not want to put their players in that position, but they said they were frustrated by the "unprecedented" decision.

Fear of heart armband

Unprecedented? Certainly! And it must be repeated clearly at this point: we are not just talking about the rainbow armband. A rainbow as a symbol of the LGBTQ+ movement does not even appear on it! It is about a rather inconspicuous heart bandage, clearly reduced in its symbolism.

And yet this piece of cloth has caused such a stir at FIFA that it has responded with its own "No Discrimination" campaign: A wide variety of statements from "Protect children" to "Save the planet" now appear on the official FIFA armbands of the 32 team captains. "One Love," of course, does not. A clever move by FIFA, which has now seemingly asserted itself with all its might.

Sport and politics cannot be separated

But what does backing down say about the seven football associations? "They just want to play soccer" can no longer be an argument. Sport and politics cannot be separated, even if FIFA, the IOC and co. might want it that way.

The seven teams took a clear stance before the start of the World Cup. Every demonstrator decides in advance and knows about the possible consequences, whether in Germany, Iran or Qatar. But such a decision also requires courage and the absolute will to really want to make a difference, come what may.

The seven European federations had the chance to do this. They could have stood together, shown a common stance and shown that they had a backbone. All that remains are empty promises and extensive damage to the image of an already tarnished World Cup.

This opinion article was originally written in German.

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