The German national soccer team covered their mouths during their team photo before their match against Japan to protest FIFA’s decision to threaten European teams that wore rainbow “OneLove” armbands with yellow cards.
Their coach said the gesture on Wednesday Nov. 23 was to symbolize FIFA, the world’s governing body for soccer, silencing players.
The “OneLove” armband is part of a campaign to promote diversity and inclusion in the soccer world, and the captains of seven European teams, including Germany, had intended on wearing the armbands during their matches.
However, they had to reverse the decision last minute after FIFA threatened to sanctions players who wore the armbands.
“It wasn’t about making a political statement – human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted, but it still isn’t the case,” the German Football Federation tweeted. “Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position.”
“Of course, it’s important for us to make a statement like this,” Germany forward Kai Havertz said, according to the BBC. “I think it was the right thing to do, to show the people that we tried to help wherever we can and Fifa makes it not easy for us.”
Qatar has been criticized for its treatment of migrant workers, at least 6,500 of whom have died since it won the bid to host the tournament in 2010, restriction of women’s rights and criminalization of same-sex relationships.
Germany played a tight game against Japan, ultimately losing 2-1. They next face Spain on Sunday Nov. 27.