Gareth Southgate has not ruled out the prospect of England making a gesture to replace the aborted “OneLove” armband but warned against nations competing against each other “to be seen” to be doing something.
On the morning of England’s first game against Iran on Monday, the seven European countries committed to wearing a specially-designed rainbow anti-discrimination armband backed down amid threats from FIFA that captains could be sanctioned with at least a yellow card in every game.
Although England took a knee before kick-off against Iran to continue a longstanding commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion, Southgate’s side opted against replacing the “OneLove” armband with another demonstration, such as Germany‘s players covering their mouths in their prematch team photo prior to facing Japan.
Last month, Australia released a three-minute video highlighting Qatar’s human rights record, treatment of migrant workers and restrictions on the LGBTQ+ community and following calls for England to act when playing the USMNT at Al Bayt Stadium here in Doha on Friday, Southgate said: “I think we’ve spoken on these particular topics for over a year.
“We’ve spoken on and supported all manner of good causes, whether that’s been individuals in our team, or the collective. I think there’s a risk that everybody tries to escalate. What, are we to try to produce a better video than Australia did? That would be impossible. They did it brilliantly. Do we have to come up with a better gesture than Germany did?
“I think we’ve got to be comfortable that we know what we stand for. That’s not to say we won’t do anything moving forward if the timing is right but I think if we’re rushing to be seen to be doing something then we could make an error which doesn’t land well.
“At this moment in time, for the players and myself especially, we’ve got to be focused on the games. Of course, the FA take the responsibility seriously. We are never going to duck any questions. The fact that we are still talking about these matters keeps them in the spotlight and helps to raise awareness.
“We are definitely hugely supportive of our LGBTQ+ fanbase. I know some of them feel a little disappointed in terms of the armband not being worn and we will be criticised for that. But sometimes we have just got to accept the criticism and move on with it. That’s as I see it: I think if we are confident about ourselves and where we stand, we shouldn’t worry about needing to do something to be seen to be doing it.”
Harry Maguire confirmed the players had discussed their next move and that “we will act when we feel it is appropriate” before reflecting on a difficult spell with Manchester United which left him fearing for his place in England’s World Cup squad.
The 29-year-old has started just three Premier League games this season after falling out of favour at Old Trafford and he said: “Obviously being picked for your country is a huge privilege. It is the pinnacle of anybody’s footballing career to play at major tournaments, World Cups especially. It is the biggest tournament in the world.
“Obviously you have fear of not being in the squad but I had great belief over what I’ve done in the 49 caps I’ve played for England that I’ve earned the trust to be in the squad and be available for the team and selection.
“Of course as a footballer nobody likes being criticised but I think it’s part and parcel of the game. I’ve played with Cristiano Ronaldo for the last couple of years and he’s one of the greatest players ever to kick a football and he gets criticised day in, day out.
“So, if it’s going to happen to him and the position I’m in I think it’s part and parcel of the game, especially the position that I’m in playing for Manchester United and the captain of Manchester United.”