FIFA calls on organizers not to sanction in-game gestures supporting George Floyd

FIFA urged soccer competition organizers on Monday to apply “common sense” and consider not sanctioning players for solidarity with George Floyd during matches.

The recognition of the “depth of sentiment” over Floyd’s death came in a rare statement by FIFA telling the global game to show flexibility and not enforce laws of soccer it helps to set.

Players used weekend games in Germany to reveal messages demanding justice for Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after he pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck in Minneapolis.

Germany’s soccer federation announced earlier Monday that it was assessing whether to sanction the players for breaking laws of the game that prohibit “any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images” on equipment.

WATCH | German league players show support for George Floyd:

During Sunday’s Bundesliga action, Marcus Thuram takes a knee and Jadon Sancho unveils a shirt that says ‘Justice For George Floyd’. 0:40

“FIFA fully understands the depth of sentiment and concerns expressed by many footballers in light of the tragic circumstances of the George Floyd case,” the governing body said in a statement.

“The application of the laws of the game approved by the IFAB is left for the competitions’ organisers, which should use common sense and have in consideration the context surrounding the events.”

FIFA controls half of the eight votes on the International Football Association Board, with the other four held by England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. A law change in 2014 — proposed by England — led to players being banned from revealing personal statements on undergarments.

England winger Jadon Sancho was booked while playing for Borussia Dortmund on Sunday for removing his jersey — a yellow-card offence — only so he could reveal a T-shirt with a “Justice for George Floyd” message.

WATCH | Canadian athletes speak against racism:

Canadian athletes have been speaking out against racism and for change, including tennis youngster Felix Auger-Aliassime, basketball legend Steve Nash, and Olympians Kia Nurse, Karina LeBlanc and Perdita Felicien 2:38

Borussia Dortmund teammate Achraf Hakimi displayed the same message on a T-shirt after scoring in the same game on Sunday but was not booked because he did not lift his jersey over his head.

Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died on Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee for several minutes on his neck. Three other officers were also at the scene. Chauvin has been charged with murder and all four were fired.

In the Bundesliga on Saturday, American midfielder Weston McKennie wore an armband over his Schalke jersey with the handwritten message “Justice for George,” and Borussia Mönchengladbach forward Marcus Thuram took a knee after scoring for Borussia Mönchengladbach in another game.

On Monday, after the Deutscher Fussball-Bund said it was assessing the players’ actions, Cologne forward Anthony Modeste became the latest to make a gesture after scoring against Leipzig. He stood briefly with his right palm facing out and his left palm facing in to display the darker skin on the back of his hand.

Cologne said it was “a clear signal” against racism from Modeste.

WATCH | ESPN’s Howard Bryant reflects on Kaepernick’s preaceful protest:

ESPN senior writer Howard Bryant on the death of George Floyd and the resulting civil unrest. 4:19

DFB president Fritz Keller on Monday showed his respect and understanding for McKennie, Thuram, Sancho and Hakimi’s gestures.

“If people are discriminated against on the basis of their skin colour, it is unbearable. If they die because of their skin colour, then I am deeply distraught,” Keller said in a DFB statement. “The victims of racism need all of us to show solidarity.”

The expressions of protest are being investigated by the German soccer federation’s control body.

“As is the case internationally,” federation vice-president Rainer Koch said, “the game itself should remain free of political statements or messages of any kind.”

FIFA’s awareness of the depth of feeling over the racial inequalities highlighted by Floyd’s death comes amid ongoing criticism soccer is not doing enough to eradicate or punish racism.

“FIFA had repeatedly expressed itself to be resolutely against racism and discrimination of any kind and recently strengthened its own disciplinary rules with a view to helping to eradicate such behaviours,” the Zurich-based governing body said. “FIFA itself has promoted many anti-racism campaigns which frequently carry the anti-racism message at matches organised under its own auspices.”

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