Arsene Wenger has suggested that Germany lost focus on the World Cup because of “political demonstrations”, which contributed to their exit in the group stage.
Germany, the 2014 world champions, were knocked out of the group stage for the second World Cup in a row, after covering their mouths during their team photo before their opening match against Japan in protest of FIFA’s ban on OneLove bracelets.
The gesture came after the German Football Association (DFB) asked captain Manuel Neuer not to wear the rainbow armband for the match against Japan following FIFA’s warning that they would face “massive” sporting sanctions if he wore the armband, which promotes diversity and inclusion.
England, Wales, the Netherlands and several other nations also did not wear the armband.
Germany did not face disciplinary action from FIFA for their pre-match gesture, but Wenger, who is FIFA’s head of global football development, suggested they may have lost focus.
Asked about Germany’s exit, Wenger said at the World Cup Technical Study Group briefing: “You know when you go to a World Cup, you know you can’t lose the first game. The teams that have the experience to perform in tournaments as France and England played well in the first game.
“The teams that were mentally ready, with a mindset to focus on competition, and not the political demonstrations.”
The World Cup in Qatar has seen a large amount of political discussion from teams, with some voicing concerns about the host’s treatment of migrant labour, its approach to LGBTQ+ rights and FIFA’s threats to punish players for political statements.
The German FA was the most vocal in pushing for anti-discrimination “OneLove” armbands to be worn by players, saying “extreme blackmail” led Germany, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Wales, England and Switzerland to abandon plans to to use them.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who sat close to FIFA President Gianni Infantino in the VIP box, wore a OneLove bracelet in support of the national team.
The DFB lost one of its commercial partners last week when German supermarket chain REWE ended its sponsorship deal over the armband dispute.
REWE CEO Lionel Souque said: “We stand for diversity and football is diversity. The scandalous behavior of FIFA is for me as the CEO of a diverse company, as well as a football fan, absolutely unacceptable.”
DFB media director Steffen Simon said Deutschlandfunk radio that England, who were the first team to plan to use it, had been threatened with more sporting sanctions.
Denmark also took a stand on the wristbands and last month wanted to use training kits with slogans in support of human rights.
Speculation had swirled around a threat by Denmark to withdraw from FIFA over the armbands, which the confederation dismissed as a media misunderstanding.