He was expecting it, but never imagined the extent of the phenomenon: for having forced seven European teams to leave their “One Love” armbands in the dressing room, Gianni Infantino is experiencing a very uncomfortable start to the 2022 World Cup. The FIFA president has been the target of all sorts of criticism since the tournament opened. They come from the federations, the players, but also from political leaders.
At the head of the procession are three European countries, two of which started the competition on Wednesday 23 November in Doha: Germany, Denmark and Belgium.
The Germans were the most audacious in their anti-FIFA campaign. This is hardly a surprise given that the federation’s president, Bernd Neuendorf, has made it known from Doha that he will not support Gianni Infantino in the presidential election, in which he will be the only candidate.
At the Khalifa Stadium on Wednesday, the German players put their hands in front of their mouths (pictured above) to symbolise the silence imposed by FIFA on the issue of human rights, for the team photo before kick-off of their match against Japan.
Clearly, they had prepared their case. As the two teams took the field, the ARD commentators warned viewers that something was going to happen. At the same time, but in the official gallery, the German Minister for Sport, Nancy Faeser, donned an inclusive ‘One Love’ armband. To her right, Gianni Infantino grimaced.
At the same time, the German Football Association (DFB) published a statement on social networks in which it repeated that “human rights are not negotiable“. The text insists: “To forbid us to wear the armband is to forbid us to speak.”
In Denmark, the fight against FIFA is led by the president of the federation, Jesper Moller. The Scandinavian leader followed in the footsteps of his German counterpart to announce that he too would not support Gianni Infantino in his quest for a third term as president. There is a presidential election at FIFA,” he explained on Wednesday 23 November. Two hundred and eleven countries are affiliated to FIFA and I understand that 207 support the current president. Denmark is not one of them. I am not only disappointed, I am angry.”
On the Belgian side, resistance to the diktat of the international football body goes back to the highest levels of the state. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hadja Lahbib, was present in the official stand for Belgium’s first match against Canada on Wednesday evening and also wore the “One Love” armband. She wore it proudly during her meeting with Gianni Infantino (photo below).
Later, the Belgian minister posted a photo on her Twitter account showing the armband on her left arm. The comment was: “My heart goes out to our Red Devils!”
The matter seems far from over, both on and off the pitch. The Dutch Football Association (KNVB) said on Wednesday that the seven countries forced to give up wearing the armband – England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark – were currently considering legal remedies against FIFA.
“We are looking at our legal position together,” said the KNVB. “We support the OneLove campaign and its message 100%… We are therefore continuing the campaign.” But the Dutch body made it clear that there were no plans to take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The predictable consequence of the “One Love” drama at the 2022 World Cup is that inclusive armbands have been snapped up around the world in recent days. Reuters reports that the Dutch company Badge Direct BV, which manufactures them in its factory in Utrecht, has been out of stock since the end of last week.
CEO Roland Heerkens says they have shipped 10,000 of them, including a batch of 500 to the European Parliament.
The armbands are priced at €4.99 each, just above the cost of manufacturing. The company says it has rushed to produce another batch of 10,000. The armbands will soon be available, including on the Dutch Football Association’s online shop.