England coach Gareth Southgate doesn’t expect his players to refrain from speaking up about issues regarding human rights during the World Cup in Qatar.
Speaking at the announcement of his 26-man squad for the tournament on Thursday, Southgate added that a decision is yet to be made over whether his team will take a knee before games in a stance against racism.
FIFA wants participating nations to focus on football at the World Cup, despite concerns over attitudes towards LGBTQ fans and the treatment of migrant workers.
But Southgate doubts it will be possible to avoid being drawn into a debate over the wider issues regarding the tournament being staged in Qatar.
“I think that’s highly unlikely,” Southgate said at a news conference. “We have always spoken about issues we think should be talked about, particularly the ones we feel we can affect. Contrary to one or two observations in the last few weeks, we have spoken in the same way other nations have spoken about this tournament, the human rights challenges. We’ve been very clear on our standpoint on that.
“I think we would like to focus primarily on the football. For every player, every coach and everybody travelling to a World Cup, this is a carnival of football. It is the thing you work for your whole life and you don’t want that to be diminished by everything else that is going on around it currently. But we recognize we are going to be in that situation, we’ve got to accept and deal with it.”
England is among a group of 10 nations, including eight World Cup teams, which has committed to its captains wearing One Love anti-discrimination armbands, which is in breach of FIFA-written rules.
“Regarding the LGBT community, we stand for inclusivity and we are very, very strong on that,” Southgate said. “We think that is important in terms of all our supporters.
“We understand the challenges this tournament brings within that. If it wasn’t for the strength of that community, we wouldn’t be women’s European champions. So it’s very, very important to us.”
Premier League players started taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. But this season, they have opted against routinely doing the gesture before every match, instead selecting specific occasions such as cup finals.
Southgate said no decision had been made ahead of Qatar.
“That will be a discussion we have with the players when we go into camp,” he added. “I’m always supportive of what they want to do. I have a view, but I don’t want to influence them too much because I think it is important they have a voice and a say in that.”