Dhe question is undoubtedly a very specific one at the Qatar World Cup – and yet it seemed to have fallen out of time and the larger context when Bernd Neuendorf was supposed to comment on it on Friday afternoon. There had been reports of this before, but while Neuendorf was holding the opening press conference of the German Football Association (DFB) at the Al-Shamal training ground near the team’s headquarters in the north of the emirate, it then became official: There is no beer in Qatar, at least not in certain time windows around the stadiums as originally planned, but only in the fan zones.
This was announced by the International Football Association (FIFA), which apparently had to bow to pressure from the organizer. Neuendorf, who otherwise spent a good half hour rhetorically sure-footedly navigating the course of explosive topics relating to the World Cup starting on Sunday, avoided giving a substantive answer in this matter. He had to “take a close look at the process,” said the DFB President, and he did not want to make a “hasty comment based on a ticker message”.
Who is putting pressure on whom is going to be quite interesting at this World Cup – that was repeatedly made clear in Neuendorf’s remarks, and it will be about much more than just the beer question. Certainly he could sing a whole different song about it if he would reveal everything that happens in the background – and on what levels. The upset, for example, in the political Qatar He experienced it personally when he recently visited the emirate with Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser.
“A Real Sign”
On Friday, the DFB President presented a project with which the association not only wants to set an example, but also wants to do something tangible on the subject of labor migration. Over five years, a total of one million euros from the funds of the DFB National Team Foundation is to flow into an SOS Children’s Village in Nepal – money from the players, which they also give to the foundation. The goal: to create education and thus reduce the pressure of migration. “We want to support where the people come from,” said Neuendorf.
There are 400,000 Nepalese migrant workers in Qatar and addressing the causes is “a real sign” and “sustainable”. However, it is not in Qatar itself, but to a certain extent on the way there. Neuendorf firmly rejected the question of whether this was possibly a conscious decision in order not to further fuel current conflicts, including those at a higher political level. “I don’t think it can be interpreted that way,” he said, referring to the identification process that took place before the explosive ministerial trip.
how far can you go That could still be the crucial question of this politicized World Cup and the German contribution to it. On another level, Neuendorf explicitly and obviously liked to go on the offensive. Some in FIFA under their President Gianni Infantino recently “irritated” him, even “disturbed”, said Neuendorf, citing his letter to the associations with the request to focus on football and the ban on Danish training shirts with the imprint “Human Rights for All” (human rights for all).
That is why the DFB unanimously decided in its executive committee not to nominate Infantino for re-election as FIFA boss in March 2023. “We made this decision because we think we have to set an example,” said Neuendorf. This will not change anything in the outcome of the election in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, four out of five continental associations support Infantino, who is the only candidate, but at least in Europe, as Neuendorf made clear, a different wind is blowing.
Neuendorf does not want to let this be taken out of his sails when it comes to the question of a different European idea. Of the original ten associations that wanted to wear the colorful “One Love” armband in Qatar, France, in the person of its captain Hugo Lloris, had recently jumped out, while the English announced that they would continue to do so even in the event of a fine FIFA cannot be dissuaded from their good intentions.
This was also followed by Neuendorf, who did not understand the colorful bandage or the Danes’ verbal commitment to human rights as a political message in the true sense of the word – and thus as an inadmissible message according to FIFA’s statutes.
First tournament as President
“It’s not a political decision that you can make one way or another.” Neuendorf also defended the bandage against criticism: It shines for a wider spectrum than the rainbow, for example for the women in the World Cup participant country Iran, whose striving for freedom and equality is violently suppressed – without FIFA feeling the need to comment. “In general, you should take a position on this. The very courageous women in Iran deserve every attention and support,” said Neuendorf, also opposing Infantino on this point.
For Neuendorf it is the first tournament as president. Four years ago in Russia, the opening press conference was also in the political spotlight, at that time it was about Özil, Gündogan and the recordings with the Turkish head of state Erdogan. As is well known, the DFB’s desire to end this debate with presidential words, then by Reinhard Grindel, before the ball rolled, backfired.
This time Neuendorf hinted – albeit delicately – that more signs could follow during the World Cup. “The players,” he said, “have a very good sense of the situation we’re in next to football.” And on the pitch? Neuendorf also had a forecast for this, a rather bold one at that. The team will “certainly win” against Japan. Nobody said that before the first game in 2018 – but everyone believed it pretty firmly.