Germany’s players covered their mouths during the team photo before their World Cup opener against Japan on Wednesday in an apparent protest over FIFA’s refusal to allow rainbow-themed armbands.

“We wanted to use our captain’s armband to take a stand for values that we hold in the Germany national team: diversity and mutual respect,” the German team’s social media handle posted. “Together with other nations, we wanted our voice to be heard.”

“It wasn’t about making a political statement – human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted, but it still isn’t the case. That’s why this message is so important to us. Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position.”

Captains of seven European teams had planned to wear the anti-discrimination armbands as part of a campaign for diversity during the tournament in Qatar, but backed down over the threat of disciplinary action from world football’s governing body.

The teams have since come under fire at home for failing to take a stronger stand against FIFA’s stance on the armbands.

It would seem the referees checked Neuer’s arm-band as well ahead of kick-off.

FIFA’s decision to bar players from wearing the “OneLove” armband was “very unfortunate”, the German government spokesman said on Wednesday, ahead of the national team’s opening World Cup fixture versus Japan.

“The rights of LGBTQ people are non-negotiable,” Steffen Hebestreit said at a regular press conference.

It was regrettable that “it is clearly not possible at the FIFA World Cup to take a position or to show a sign of solidarity”, he said.

Hebestreit added he hoped the debate around the armband would “positively change” the attitude of football associations and the organisers of major sporting events.

The rainbow armbands had been viewed as a symbolic protest against laws in World Cup host Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.

Germany’s football association said Tuesday it was examining if FIFA’s threat to impose disciplinary action against players who wear the “OneLove” armband at the World Cup tournament is legal.

“FIFA banned us from showing a sign for diversity and human rights. They combined this with massive threats of sports sanctions without specifying what these would be,” DFB spokesman Steffen Simon told AFP’s sports subsidiary SID.

With AFP inputs