DFB president Keller: "I was very enthusiastic about how the players painted the shirts themselves."
Before the 3-0 win over Iceland in the World Cup qualifiers, the German national team sent a statement supporting the protection of human rights, with each player wearing a jersey with a letter spelling out the message. In an interview with DFB.de, DFB President Fritz Keller discusses the players' action and the calls to boycott the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
DFB.de: Mr. Keller, the German national team sent a strong signal for human rights when it kicked off its qualifying campaign for the World Cup in Qatar. Can the whole of the DFB get behind this action?
Fritz Keller: Absolutely. Of course, the entire DFB is committed to respecting human rights, which is why the commitment to human rights was also incorporated into the DFB's statutes at the DFB's 2019 Annual General Meeting. We must stand up for our values, which are written in our statutes, and let our voices be heard at all times. If someone cannot rally behind a statement for human rights, they urgently need to realign their morals.
DFB.de: What was the motivation behind the action?
Keller: Every player dreams of being able play for their country in a World Cup from a young age. From the millions of football players that we have in Germany, who gets this amazing opportunity? The players want to take advantage of that and play with the best in the world. They want to go to the World Cup and play for Germany. At the same time, of course, they know what you don't play with: human rights. They are non-negotiable and universally applicable, all over the world. This is what the national players have drawn attention to.
DFB.de: The idea came from within the team and was developed and implemented together with the DFB. Does that make you proud?
Keller: Very proud! I was very enthusiastic when I saw the result and how the players painted their jerseys themselves. We've said several time in the past that we want players to carry responsibility. I think it's fantastic that they carried out this action, and that we have players again who are committed and who care about what's happening in the world. The message that they sent out yesterday, like that of the Norwegian national team, is going around the world right now.
DFB.de: Is this statement strong enough, looking ahead to the World Cup in Qatar?
Keller: Every single message is powerful and effective, but of course we must and will continue to raise our voice. Just as the DFB did in the run-up to and during the World Cup in Russia with an extensive social engagement. We play for people, not governments. The DFB's stance on the World Cup in Qatar will also be a topic of discussion at the Executive Board meeting in April, with the goal of achieving a common stance on behalf of German football.
DFB.de: FIFA has already declared that it will not open an investigation into the DFB for sending a political message in the stadium.
Keller: Messages that are in line with the values outlined in our statutes must also be possible in the stadium.
DFB.de: Several people are calling for a boycott of the World Cup.
Keller: I would have hoped to push for concrete changes, and to have those implemented before awarding the World Cup to a country like Qatar, where there are several things that still need to change. Instead, Qatar were awarded the World Cup as a kind of leap of faith, in the hope that it would help bring improvements. We have to deal with that. And indeed, several things have been done, even if not everything in Qatar has been resolved yet. We're in touch with politicians and experts from non-governmental organizations. Amnesty International advises against a boycott, and instead calls for more disclosure and sharing of grievances, as well as dialogue with those involved and setting clear symbols, as the national team did yesterday as a first step. Qatar has initiated several reforms, and there has been visible progress made - although there is still a ways to go - which a boycott could potentially undo. With an eye on the future, we welcomed FIFA's initiative from November 2017, under which all FIFA-sanctioned tournaments must set out minimum criteria on human rights and guaranteeing other standards, for example on labour protection, freedom of opinion or inclusion.
DFB.de: So you're more for dialogue, instead of a boycott?
Keller: Qatar and the living conditions there are only being highlighted for one reason at the moment: because they are hosting the World Cup next year. This is a powerful mechanism towards achieving change together. Unacceptable conditions in other countries do not receive this level of public attention. I believe in the unifying power of sport to bring about change. After World War II, Switzerland reached out to us and brought Germany back into the fold of the football community. That one game was more effective than many other measures, as proposed by politicians. Sport is immensely powerful, but it also cannot overcome all the issues that even politics fails to address. However, in the context of a major event such as the World Cup, it can and must help to draw the public's attention to this topic.###more###