It is not hard to imagine the air of self-congratulation within FIFA’s inner sanctum when they enforced a crackdown on One Love armbands at the start of the World Cup. Let the football start, let the politics be muzzled.
The German national team, though, were not prepared to take that quietly. Their silent protest, an act of defiance forever captured in that team photograph, should send all the nations who had signed up for the One Love armband back into consultation. What clever things can we come up with to make our point rather than just backing off?
Be an ally. That is what Germany’s players consciously decided to do. The fact they took the time to have a team meeting to discuss how they might act instead, coming up with the clever gesture of covering their mouths, is meaningful.
The German team took the choice to be an ally, independent of pressure from FIFA. The Danish Federation coming out and insisting it will not vote for Gianni Infantino is another smart way of making its point forcefully while working around the heavy-handed edicts of FIFA.
Being an ally can be complicated. I learned that from experience in the volatile world of Twitter. Not so long ago, Ian Wright took to the site to draw attention to some hideous racist abuse and with the best intentions, I sent a message of support effectively urging him not to take this idiot to heart and to instead let it be drowned out by the many who love him. That was widely interpreted by people who know better than me that it sounds like a call to turn the other cheek. I learned there is no keeping quiet, no enabling abusers by requesting they are best ignored. I needed to learn how to be a better ally.
Anyone discriminated against needs allies, people prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder. It is common for protests organized by sporting institutions to be open to the question of how much of it is genuine and how much is virtue signaling. These are grey, indefinable areas. Germany’s “silenced” picture is worth thousands of words. That action is walking hand in hand with a community that needs support in Qatar. Germany’s protest does a good job of keeping the conversation going despite FIFA’s attempt to quash it.
There is no unmixing of sport and politics at this World Cup. The extraordinarily brave statement made by Iran’s players when they left the national anthem unsung was profound to behold. They also needed an ally.
Back in London, in the build-up to that match, the comedian and actor Omid Djalili produced a viral video, which has attracted more than one million views, essentially asking England’s players to stand up for the plight of women in Iran. The symbol of scrunch and snip, to pull up some imaginary hair from your head and cut it with an imaginary knife, has become so important. Djilali entered one England player in celebration to do that, with helpful instructions on exactly what to do, how easy it is, and how invaluable such a supporting gesture would be.
“I was looking for one England player to do a small, efficient gesture that would have been massive,” he said afterwards. “Jack Grealish is in every newspaper for his celebration and well done him. Can you imagine the global reach if one player had done ‘scrunch and snip’?”
The DFB statement is an example of how those who want to can work around the rules and threats to be an ally. “Banning us from the bandage is like banning our mouths. Our stance stands.” Another sentence stood out: “Be loud with other nations.” Germany had an awful day on the pitch but pre-match could not be faulted in demonstrating their values.
Let a wave of clever gestures begin.
Read more: Manuel Neuer says ‘FIFA will never silence us’ after Germany’s World Cup photo protest
(Top photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)