Rewe drops ads with German soccer association over armbands row

By Hakan Ersen and Matthias Inverardi

FRANKFURT/DUESSELDORF (Reuters) -Major grocery chain Rewe has scrapped its advertising campaign with the German Football Association (DFB) after soccer’s global governing body cracked down on players wearing ‘OneLove’ armbands in support of diversity at the Qatar World Cup.

The move by Rewe, one of Germany’s biggest supermarket chains with group-wide annual sales of 76.5 billion euros ($78.5 billion), makes it the first sponsor to take action after FIFA threatened to issue yellow cards to any player wearing the multi-coloured armband at the World Cup.

German sportswear group Adidas, carmaker Volkswagen and carrier Lufthansa said separately they would keep their deals with the DFB, though all three said they championed diversity.

The case is the latest headache for sponsors involved in the World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal and where authorities have come under fire for deaths among migrant workers who helped build stadiums for the tournament.

It comes after FIFA’s last minute decision on Friday not to allow beer to be sold at Qatar’s World Cup stadiums, dealing a blow to beer maker AB InBev, a sponsor of the tournament.

“We stand up for diversity – and football is also diversity. We live this position and we defend it,” said Rewe Group Chief Executive Lionel Souque. “FIFA’s scandalous attitude is absolutely unacceptable.”

The decision reflects Germans’ negative mood towards the tournament both online, with the hashtag #BoycottQatar2022 trending on Twitter in Germany, and on the ground with protests, including a German stadium lighting 20,000 candles for Qatar migrant worker fatalities on Sunday.

Almost half of Germans are in favour of sponsors and politicians boycotting the event and more than two thirds see a visit by Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the tournament as unnecessary, a University of Hohenheim survey showed on Monday.

Rewe said it had told the DFB in October it did not want to continue their partnership, but after the armband decision it wanted to clearly distance itself from FIFA’s position and waive its advertising rights under their agreement.

“The DFB sponsorship with REWE was not terminated because of current events. Please note that REWE and the DFB agreed weeks ago, that the contract, which expires at the end of the year, would not be extended,” a DFB spokesperson said.

‘BIG MISTAKE’

“We are convinced that sport must be open to everyone. It is imperative to continue the discussion,” Adidas said in a statement.

Volkswagen said FIFA’s behaviour was “unacceptable”.

“The discussions and reactions show that something fundamental needs to change in world football,” a spokesperson for the carmaker said on Tuesday.

Separately, Deutsche Telekom said it planned to talk to the DFB about the armbands controversy, while Lufthansa said it did not intend to end its partnership with the DFB.

German interior and sports minister Nancy Faeser, who is due to travel to Qatar later in the day, said FIFA’s decision was a “big mistake that tears the hearts of the fans”, adding she would address this issue while in Doha.

“It’s a difficult road, but I think it’s important that we continue to discuss human rights with the decision makers there,” Faeser said.

Several soccer associations had said their team captains would wear the ‘OneLove’ armband in Qatar. But the associations from Germany, England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark said on Monday they would drop those plans following FIFA’s warning.

The DFB said on Tuesday associations backing the armband were faced with “extreme blackmail,” and it had scrapped plans for players to wear it because it was unfair for them to shoulder the consequences.

Rewe said it would start giving away World Cup-themed sticker albums for free and donate proceeds from those already sold to charity.

The Sun newspaper on Sunday reported that drinks maker and England sponsor Lucozade had pulled all its branding from the World Cup in a snub to Qatar.

FIFA on Monday said it had brought forward its own “No Discrimination” campaign from the planned quarter-finals stage so all 32 team captains would have the opportunity to wear its own armband during the tournament.

The DFB is the world’s largest soccer federation, with more than 7 million active members. Other DFB partners include Commerzbank and Munich Re’s ERGO.

($1 = 0.9740 euro)

(Reporting by Matthias Inverardi, Jan Schwartz, Hakan Ersen, Karolos Grohmann and Ilona Wissenbach; Writing by Miranda Murray, Christoph Steitz and Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Toby Chopra, Christian Radnedge and Mark Potter)

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