Joshua Kimmich's concentration levels might be at their highest on the field, but of late the Germany midfielder and his teammates are having to focus a lot more on all that is happening off the field.
Less than three months after Germany met with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the German Football Association (DFB) continued to build on their understanding of the situation in Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup. At their domestic home training ground in Herzogenaurach, Germany's team and staff sat in on a discussion between a panel of guest speakers. While the conversation was about the situation in Qatar generally, the focus of this talk was on the situation for the LGBTQ+ community in the country.
Christian Rudolph, head of gender and sexual diversity for the DFB, reminded the room of the recent statement from the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani who said that LGBTQ visitors would be welcome, but would also be expected to "respect our culture." For Rudolph, this statement is less welcoming than it might appear. "I see this is as a threat," said Rudolph, adding that "if holding hands, as one does on holiday, is already punishable then that definitely doesn't give a feeling of security."
Thomas Hitzlsperger, the German FA's ambassador for diversity, said each player would have to decide for themselves how much pressure they allowed themselves to be put under. The former Germany international then added his own advice: "Only talk about things you know about, and say when you don't."
Last year, Germany made a statement when ahead of their qualifier against Iceland the starting eleven wore t-shirts that spelled out the words human rights. Leon Goretzka, often outspoken on social issues, said afterwards the show of support was because the team were not ignoring the situation in Qatar and that this was a chance for the team to use its large reach to set an example of the values they want to stand for.
Just a day after the meeting with Amnesty and HRW in March this year though, Thomas Müller caused a stir with his comments as the Bayern Munich attacker said there were human rights violations basically everywhere, including in Germany.
Qatar has been heavily criticized for human rights issues over the last few years, specifically over its treatment of migrants workers, as well as the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community. Qatar has claimed many times that major progress has been made, but organisations such as Amnesty and HRW say much more needs to be done.Martin Endemann, Project Manager of Football Supporters Europe and another speaker at the panel for the Germany team this month, feels the same, saying: "The situation in Qatar has not improved. There are no unions, there is no freedom of speech or the press."
At the end of the discussion, team manager Oliver Bierhoff stated that: "There is not one truth to Qatar, which is why it's important we take a position."
Two days later, Bierhoff told Der Spiegel he wants "a big concerted action" from the whole European football family "that shows: We have all dealt with the critical issues and are now showing our colours." DFB President Bernd Neuendorf recently voiced interest in a similar idea, although the details of such plans remain unclear.
With just two friendlies in September before the World Cup begins, this is the last significant amount of time Germany will have together as a group before the tournament in Qatar begins in November. With each passing week, questions mount about how Germany will perform on the field but also how the team and the association will handle the host of issues that surround the tournament in Qatar.
Edited by James Thorogood
Author Jonathan Harding
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