Germany wears ‘human rights’ shirts after Norway’s protest

GENEVA (AP) — The German national team wore T-shirts to show support for human rights ahead of a World Cup qualifying game Thursday, hours after FIFA said Norway would not be disciplined for its attempt to draw attention to labor rights abuses in Qatar.

The German team lined up in black shirts, each with one white letter to spell out “HUMAN RIGHTS,” ahead of the 3-0 win against Iceland. Midfielder Leon Goretzka said the German players had followed Norway’s lead and that they wanted to make a statement about the 2022 World Cup.

“We just spoke about it in the team. Obviously we have the World Cup ahead of us and there’s always a lot of discussion going on about that,” he told broadcaster RTL. “We wanted to make it clear to society that we aren’t ignoring that and that instead we’re saying very clearly what kind of conditions there should be, and we tried to make that clear today.”

Five of the players were from Bayern Munich, which has longstanding ties to Qatar. Bayern has held training camps there since 2011 and is sponsored by Qatar Airways.

Bayern’s honorary president Uli Hoeness said he thought the team’s statement was “justified,” but that staging a World Cup in Qatar could be positive.

“I think that a World Cup in Qatar and FC Bayern’s involvement there could also lead to the working conditions getting better,” Hoeness said on RTL.

FIFA’s disciplinary code states players and federations can face disciplinary action in cases of “using a sports event for demonstrations of a non-sporting nature.”

However, FIFA said it will not open a case against Norway for wearing shirts stating “HUMAN RIGHTS” and “Respect on and off the pitch” before its game against Gibraltar on Wednesday.

That continued a more relaxed policy FIFA showed at the 2018 World Cup toward women campaigning for access to stadiums in Iran, and last year encouraging a “common sense” approach from soccer bodies when Black players made on-field gestures after the death of George Floyd.

“FIFA believes in the freedom of speech, and in the power of football as a force for good,” the governing body said in a statement Thursday.

Qatar, which won the World Cup hosting vote a decade ago, has been under scrutiny over laws and conditions for migrant workers helping to build infrastructure for the tournament.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said last week Qatar has made social progress because of becoming the World Cup host.

Some of Norway’s soccer clubs have called for a boycott of the tournament in Qatar. That is unlikely partly because FIFA’s World Cup regulations state that teams withdrawing from next year’s tournament can be banned from the 2026 edition. The first 48-team World Cup — with 16 European teams qualifying instead of 13 — will be hosted in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Norway coach Stale Solbakken said ahead of the Gibraltar game his team “can do things that the world might see” to put pressure on Qatar.

FIFA loosened its rules at the last World Cup in Russia regarding the Iranian protest, a campaign supported by its president Gianni Infantino.

At Iran’s opening game in St. Petersburg, female fans unfurled banners protesting for their right to attend men’s soccer games at home. A ban had been imposed since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

After the game, FIFA said the banners were “to express a social appeal as opposed to a political slogan and was therefore not prohibited under the relevant regulations.”

Infantino said last year after players in Germany made anti-racism gestures that “in a FIFA competition the recent demonstrations of players in Bundesliga matches would deserve an applause and not a punishment.”

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Ellingworth reported from Düsseldorf, Germany.

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