BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s professional soccer leagues have been marred by widespread protests against the World Cup in Qatar, with rival fans joining forces to condemn FIFA’s corruption and human rights abuses in the Gulf Arab country.
On Sunday, before the final Bundesliga game before the league’s extended two-month winter break, Freiburg supporters behind a goal held a huge banner with the words “Boycott Qatar”.
Other large banners highlighted alleged injustices in the country, as it appeared nearly every supporter at the 34,700-capacity stadium held individual placards calling for a boycott of the tournament, seven days before it started.
Mainz fans also called for a boycott during their side’s draw with Eintracht Frankfurt.
They were the latest protests after weeks of public stadium displays against the controversial tournament awarded to Qatar by FIFA amid allegations of vote-buying in 2010.
“It was wrong and it still is wrong,” Bernd Beyer of the “Boycott Qatar 2022” initiative told The Associated Press on Sunday. “Fans don’t identify with it and say they want nothing to do with it, but they actively criticize it and don’t just shut down.”
Beyer said fans were partly spurred on by developments in international football, where money plays an increasingly important role.
“All of professional football is becoming more and more commercial. It’s just something you don’t identify with,” Beyer said. “And, of course, the same thing is happening in Qatar right now. The decision is wrong because Qatar is a country where human rights do not apply, where migrant workers are heavily exploited, where homosexuality is prohibited.”
Beyer, a Cologne and Borussia Dortmund supporter, was keen to point out that the protests were organically led by groups of supporters and were not coordinated by his own initiative, which was documenting protests on Twitter and has received requests from supporters in Spain and France who also want to demonstrate against the tournament.
Hertha Berlin fans displayed a giant ‘Boycott Qatar’ banner during their team’s win over Cologne on Saturday, with another sign reading ‘No Herthaner will watch the World Cup in Qatar’. Individual supporters held boycott signs.
The previous week, during the team’s match against Bayern Munich, Hertha fans denounced the tournament’s impact on the climate, Qatar’s persecution of LGBTQ+ rights and disregard for human rights.
Hertha and Bayern supporters displayed banners saying organizers should be ashamed of themselves due to the high number of migrant deaths associated with the competition.
Augsburg fans backed the boycott call while displaying a banner with a line through the logo of the German Football Association (DFB). “Do like the federations, don’t watch. #BoycottQatar22,” banners from Augsburg said when visiting Bochum on Saturday.
Augsburg fans have also slammed World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman for his recent homophobic comments, telling him: “Your World Cup is haram!”
Salman, a former Qatar national team player, told public broadcaster ZDF that being gay is “haram”, or forbidden in Arabic, and that he has a problem with children seeing gay people.
Bayern fans referenced Salman’s comments on Tuesday’s visit to Werder Bremen with a banner reading: ‘Mind damaged? (expletive) you, Khalid & Co.’
There were general protests during the second division games between Hamburger SV and Heidenheim, and Fortuna Düsseldorf against Kaiserslautern, this weekend.
“Anyone watching even one World Cup match is complicit in tens of thousands of deaths!” said a Heidenheim fan banner.
Qatari officials have consistently pushed back against the figure of 6,500 migrant deaths reported by the British newspaper The Guardian. It’s unclear exactly how many workers have been killed helping Qatar prepare to host the tournament.
Werder Bremen fans said on Saturday the death toll exceeded the number of minutes played in the 32-team competition, which they described as “football’s biggest crime to date”.
Borussia Mönchengladbach fans displayed banners on Friday criticizing the “FIFA mafia”.
Hannover fans unfurled banners calling for a boycott during their side’s win over Düsseldorf on Tuesday and said the German national team had “blood on your cleats (boots)”.
The previous weekend, Dortmund fans unfurled numerous banners ahead of their team’s game against Bochum criticizing human rights in Qatar, mourning the loss of footballing morality and urging viewers not to watch the tournament.
Kaiserslautern and Nuremberg were also united in their condemnation of the tournament in their match.
In several stadiums, calls for a boycott of the World Cup were accompanied by leaflets giving an overview of the alleged situation in Qatar and the reasons to take a stand against it. Fans of Bayern, Hertha, Gladbach and 1860 Munich all handed out flyers.
“There is a clear indication that we don’t want to take advantage of a World Cup like this,” Beyer told the AP. “What you see in the stadiums is just the most spectacular sign of the fans, these banners and slogans. But during the World Cup, many groups in many cities organize their own events, their own tournaments, showing old football movies etc… It will show a different culture that is actively opposed to this commercial culture.”
Greuther Fürth’s coach Alexander Zorniger is also not a fan of the tournament.
“Merry Christmas to all of you, happy World Cup, absurd World Cup,” Zorniger said after his side’s final game of the year on Sunday.
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