BERLIN -- Germany’s professional soccer leagues have been marked by widespread protests against the World Cup in Qatar, with rival fans joining forces to condemn FIFA corruption and human rights abuses in the Gulf Arab country.
On Sunday, before the last Bundesliga game ahead of the league’s extended two-month winter break, Freiburg fans behind one goal held a huge banner with the words, “Boycott Qatar.”
Other large banners highlighted alleged injustices in the country, while it seemed almost every supporter in the 34,700-capacity stadium held an individual sign calling for a boycott of the tournament, seven days before it was due to begin.
Mainz fans also called for a boycott during their team’s draw with Eintracht Frankfurt.
They were the final protests after weeks of public displays across stadiums against the tournament controversially awarded to Qatar by FIFA amid allegations of vote-buying in 2010.
“It was wrong and it’s still wrong,” Bernd Beyer of the “Boycott Qatar 2022” initiative told The Associated Press on Sunday. “The fans do not identify with it and are saying they don’t want to have anything to do with it, but they are actively criticizing it and not just switching off.”
Beyer said the fans were partly spurred by developments across international soccer, where money is playing an increasingly important role.
“All professional soccer is becoming more and more commercial. That’s just something you don’t identify with,” Beyer said. “And, of course, the same thing is happening in Qatar now. The decision is wrong because Qatar is a country where human rights don’t apply, where migrant workers are heavily exploited, where homosexuality is forbidden.”
Beyer, a Cologne and Borussia Dortmund supporter, was keen to stress that the protests were driven organically by supporter groups and had not been coordinated by his own initiative, which has been documenting the protests on Twitter and has received inquiries 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 saying “No Herthaner will watch the World Cup in Qatar.” Individual supporters held boycott signs.
The week before, during the team's game against Bayern Munich, Hertha fans slammed 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 due to the high number of migrant deaths associated with the competition.
Augsburg fans backed the call for a boycott while displaying a banner with a line through the logo of the German soccer federation (DFB). “Do like the federations, don’t look. #BoycottQatar22,” Augsburg banners said during Bochum’s visit on Saturday.
Augsburg supporters also criticized World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman for his recent homophobic comments, telling him, “Your World Cup is haram!”
Salman, a former Qatari 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 referred to Salman’s comments on Tuesday during Werder Bremen’s visit with a banner saying: “Damaged mind? (expletive) you, Khalid & Co.”
There were general protests during second-division games between Hamburger SV and Heidenheim, and Fortuna Düsseldorf vs. Kaiserslautern, this weekend.
“Anyone who watches even one World Cup game is complicit in tens of thousands of deaths!” said one banner from Heidenheim fans.
Qatari officials have consistently pushed back against a figure of 6,500 migrant deaths reported by the British newspaper The Guardian. It is unclear exactly how many workers were killed helping Qatar get ready to host the tournament.
Werder Bremen fans said Saturday the number of deaths is higher than the number of playing minutes at the 32-team competition, which they described as “soccer’s biggest crime to date.”
Borussia Mönchengladbach fans on Friday displayed banners criticizing the “FIFA mafia.”
Hannover supporters displayed banners calling for a boycott during their team’s win over Düsseldorf on Tuesday and said Germany’s national team has “blood on your cleats (boots).”
The previous weekend, Dortmund fans unfurled numerous banners before their team’s game against Bochum criticizing Qatar’s human rights, mourning the loss of soccer’s morals and urging TV viewers not to watch the tournament.
Kaiserslautern and Nuremberg were also united in their condemnation of the tournament during their game.
At several stadiums, calls for a World Cup boycott were accompanied by flyers giving an outline of the alleged situation in Qatar and reasons for taking a stand against it. Supporters of Bayern, Hertha, Gladbach and 1860 Munich all distributed flyers.
“There’s a clear indication that we don’t want to enjoy a World Cup like this,” Beyer told the AP. “What you see in the stadiums is just the most spectacular sign from the fans, these banners and slogans. But during the World Cup many groups in many cities are putting on their own events, their own tournaments, showing old soccer films and so on … It will show a different culture actively opposed to this commercial culture.”
Greuther Fürth coach Alexander Zorniger isn’t a fan of the tournament, either.
“Happy Christmas to you all, happy World Cup, nonsense World Cup,” Zorniger said after his team’s final game of the year on Sunday.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports