Manuel Neuer straightens up and straightens up. Maybe that’s a coincidence, because the goalkeeper and the captain of the German national soccer team are only looking for a comfortable sitting position. But somehow that fits with what was just said on the podium. It fits with the suggestion that the national team captain wear a captain’s armband in the rainbow at the World Cup later this year.

“These are symbolic signs,” says Pia Mann from the “Discover Football” initiative, which campaigns for equality and against discrimination, “but they make a big difference.”

When the German national soccer team meets Italy, England and Hungary in the next few days, it is primarily about points in the Nations League. In reality, it’s about much more. For the World Cup in Qatar. This can also be felt in the training sessions in Herzogenaurach. Let the long season unwind comfortably? Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that!

There are still 174 days until the World Cup begins in the emirate on the Persian Gulf. “This World Cup is a special one,” says Steffen Simon, the former ARD sports director and new media director of the German Football Association (DFB). And that’s why the national players sit in rank and file on Wednesday afternoon after their training and listen to a handful of experts who talk about the World Cup hosts on the podium. “November is coming faster than we think,” says Simon.

The discussions about the human rights situation in Qatar also affect the national players – even if they just want to play football. “It’s important that we inform ourselves, that we deal with it, that we take a position and that football has a responsibility,” says Oliver Bierhoff, manager of the national team. “There is a development there, but it is not enough in many things.”

In March, representatives from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch visited the national team to give the players an overview of the situation in Qatar. “As an athlete, you only get a glimpse of it,” said Thomas Müller, who has been to Qatar several times with his club, FC Bayern Munich – and who still doesn’t have the feeling that he has got to know the country in all its facets . This is also the case on Wednesday at the panel discussion with participants from different areas.

There are different excerpts that ideally result in an overall picture. On the one hand there is the sports marketing expert Roland Bischof, who has been to Qatar 75 times in the past seventeen years and who says that not everything is good there and yet “far better than it is portrayed”. There are honest reforms, especially in comparison to neighboring countries, and “if we bash it all away, the conservative forces will get the upper hand again”.

Even human rights organizations do not deny that reforms have been initiated in Qatar, but many rights still exist at best on paper. And so the idea that the World Cup will radically change and modernize the emirate is one thing above all: unworldly.

Martin Endemann, spokesman for “Football Supporters Europe”, calls it “an absolute misjudgment”, especially after the experiences with the World Cup in Russia four years ago: “We all helped to normalize Russia. And we are all helping normalize Qatar.”

Fifa, the world football association, naturally sees things differently. “The development that the country has taken gives us a positive feeling at Fifa,” says their security chief Helmut Spahn. “Qatar is the safest country in the world.”

For Christian Rudolph, on the other hand, head of the DFB contact point for gender and sexual diversity, there is no sense of security in Qatar. Not after the country’s emir recently answered the question of whether homosexual guests would have to stay at home during the World Cup during his state visit to Germany: “We welcome everyone. But we also expect everyone to respect our culture.” Qatari culture also means that homosexuality is forbidden and can be drastically sanctioned.

A real welcome culture looks different for Christian Rudolph. About the Emir’s statement, he says: “I see that as a threat.”