After two weeks of weak soccer – overshadowed by blistering off-pitch rows – Germans are licking their wounds over their World Cup Qatarstrophe.
While German football association (DFB) president Bernd Neuendorf departed Doha insisting it was “time to look forward”, it fell to 22-year-old midfielder Kai Havertz to state the obvious: “In the end, we have to point the finger at ourselves.”
German fingers – particular those attached to soccer officials and politicians – were very busy long before they arrived in Qatar for the World Cup.
Homosexuality is illegal under Islamic sharia law and, in a pre-tournament documentary on German television, a Qatari World Cup ambassador described homosexuality as “damage in the mind”.
DFB officials condemned remarks, conceded were indicative of the emirate’s official punitive stance and promised to take principled action once the tournament began.
In the end, though, they capitulated to Fifa and dropped plans to send team captain Manuel Neuer out to play wearing a “one love” armband.
That prompted supermarket chain Rewe, a lead DFB sponsor, to drop all links with the soccer body. Twisting the knife, Rewe chief executive Lionel Souque said: “For us, football means, among other things, fair play, tolerance and solidarity – and we stand for these values.”
Germany interior minister Nancy Faeser, also responsible for sports, criticised Qatar’s LGBTQ stance as “terrible” and donned a “one love” armband as she took her seat in the VIP section in advance of Germany’s first match.
Even before that stunt, senior Qatari officials accused her and other German officials of moral double standards.
Speculating that minister Faeser was playing to a home audience, an official Qatari spokesman noted that “in meetings she was far more forthright and polite than in her public appearances”.
All the while Germany was condemning Qatar over LGBTQ rights in public, it was begging in private for the emirate to close a deal to deliver liquid natural gas (LNG).
Two high-level visits this year – including Chancellor Olaf Scholz in September – had yet to yield the promised contract.
“On one hand the [German] government has no problem with Qatar when it comes to energy partnerships or rescuing German citizens from Afghanistan,” noted Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in the Frankfurter Allgemeine daily last month. “When we organise a football World Cup, want to enjoy the moment and celebrate together with the German team, then suddenly different standards apply.”
After months of delays, in the middle of the armband row, Qatar announced an agreement to ship two million tonnes of LNG annually to Germany.
Mr Scholz welcomed the deal as an important “building block” toward greater energy security, as Germany races to replace Russian energy. But critics noted the deal only begins in four years time while federal economics minister Robert Habeck conceded a longer contract would collide with German plans to be carbon neutral by 2045.
In an interview on the LNG deal Qatar energy minister Saad Scharida al-Kaabi criticised Ms Faeser in the Bild tabloid: “If I visit another country as a government representative and know that it would be attacked by a particular gesture then I would respect that.”
German calls for TV boycott of the tournament were as successful as the national side: every second television was tuned in – 17.43 million viewers – for the Costa Rica debacle.
The determination of DFB officials on Friday to remain on prompted a Bild lashing: “The unbearable arrogance!”
The reviews were similarly negative for Germany’s armband diplomacy and LNG deal.
“Moral superiority can be dangerous these days,” noted the Süddeutsche Zeitung daily. “It cuts both ways.”
The Frankfurter Allgemeine said that “by playing to the gallery in Qatar [Faeser] damaged bilateral relationships and achieved nothing”.