Subscriber OnlyWorld CupQatar 2022

Ken Early: Germany’s protest was admirable but sponsors could look closer to home

Team cover their mouths in photograph while interior minister Nancy Faeser wears One Love armband

Germany captain Manuel Neuer followed Harry Kane, Virgil van Dijk, Gareth Bale and Simon Kjær in not wearing the One Love armband during his country’s World Cup opener versus Japan.

Instead, the German players posed for the team photo with their hands over their mouths. “This is not about a political message: human rights are non-negotiable,” the German FA said in a tweet. “That should go without saying. Unfortunately it still isn’t. That is why this message is so important to us. Banning us from the bandage is like banning our mouths. Our stance stands.”

After joining the six other countries in backing down over the armband, Germany had faced considerable public pressure to register some kind of protest. The Qatar World Cup has been unpopular in Germany, with viewing figures for the opening game down more than 40 per cent on 2018. Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said that in his opinion, Neuer should wear the armband. Interior minister Nancy Faeser was in the stadium, wearing one.

There had also been pressure from sponsors. The day before the game, the giant German retail chain Rewe announced it was dropping its sponsorship of the German national team in protest at their decision not to wear the armband. “We stand up for diversity – and football is also diversity. We live this position and we defend it,” said Rewe chief executive Lionel Souque. “FIFA’s scandalous attitude is absolutely unacceptable.”


It was interesting to hear of Rewe’s principled stance. In October 2021 I was walking through Breitscheidplatz in west Berlin and stopped to watch a political demonstration in the square. The demonstrators turned out to be striking retail workers, drawn from a group of German firms which included that very same Rewe.

Have you ever wondered why German supermarket chains are so big in Ireland? It’s because the German grocery sector is pretty much the most competitive in the world. Walmart, that byword for American Big Retail price-undercutting efficiency, tried to establish itself in Germany in 1997, found it couldn’t compete, and had to pull out in 2006.

German retailers did not become the world’s most competitive by paying their workers generous wages. At the time of the demo I saw, the Rewe workers were demanding a 4.5 per cent pay rise and a €12.50 minimum wage.

Rewe, whose 2021 turnover was almost €70 billion, was offering a 2 per cent pay rise plus the promise of a further 1.2 per cent increase in 2022. The inflation rate in Germany then was almost 4 per cent. Last month it was 10 per cent. Now that Rewe are in the mood to show their decency, maybe they could take the money they are saving on the DFB sponsorship and put it towards looking after their own.

Ken Early

Ken Early

Ken Early is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in soccer