‘I’m not sure what it would achieve’

Gareth Southgate has rejected calls to boycott the World Cup over human rights issues and believes his squad protesting in Qatar will be more effective.

England players were given a 30-minute presentation when they arrived at St George’s Park this week. Concerns were highlighted over human rights for workers who built the stadiums at the tournament they have qualified for. The Gulf state also has anti-LGBT laws and homosexuality is illegal.

Southgate expects to face stern criticism about how his players protest, with ongoing talks among the squad about how they want to take a stand. But the England manager says the investment from Qatar in English commerce makes the situation more complicated and questioned how refusing to play would help.

“I don’t really know what that would achieve,” said Southgate. “It would, of course, be a big story, but this tournament would go ahead and the fact is, unfortunately, the biggest issue that is non-religious and non-cultural is what happened with the building of the stadiums. There is nothing we can do about that either, sadly.

“As soon as we have entered the tournament, that is the point we should decide what we have known for four years or eight years and is the stance against Qatar as a country. Should we protest against Qatar as a country or a specific issue? If it is Qatar as a country we are intertwined as we have seen with Russia.

“We have all sorts of investment in our countries. Are we all going to stop shopping at Sainsbury’s? The Shard. All sorts of property investment. We are in such a complex world of deals, as we have seen with Saudi Arabia. On one hand, people are talking about the investment in Newcastle, and on the other hand, we are going to them and asking them to reduce the oil prices so we can get our petrol cheaper, so we are all observing these things. It is really difficult and intertwined.”

Southgate’s players took the knee at the Eurpoean Championship on their way to the final to highlight issues of discrimination. Jordan Henderson highlighted how jeering of the knee was quickly replaced by shows of support within stadiums.

Southgate added that human rights supporters had highlighted footballer protests in Qatar being the most effective way to shine a light on issues.

“I don’t think that is a decision the players or myself can make [to boycott],” Southgate added. “My understanding is the discussions the FA had with organizations like Amnesty International is that they feel there would be more change if we go and these things are highlighted, so that is also guiding some of the thinking.

“There are some things that are religious and cultural that are going to be very difficult to change, but there is an opportunity to use the voices and platform in a positive way, there is no doubt.

“Whatever we do, we are going to be criticized, we are going to try and do our best. We have got to use our voice in the right way at the right time. But there are lots of other issues that we are all dealing with.”

England’s friendly against Switzerland on Saturday is dedicated to the Alzheimer’s Society and their clash against Ivory Coast on Tuesday will feature a show of support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

Henderson revealed he found some of the information on Qatar “horrendous” when presented with the Football Association’s research this week. “It was hard to know what’s true and what is not and what is going on. When we were given the briefing the other day, it is quite shocking and disappointing. Horrendous, really, when you hear of some of the issues that have been happening there. It is a really important topic and we really need to get it right as a team,” Henderson said.

Southgate’s team will be looking to go one better in Qatar after reaching the semi-finals four years ago and then falling at the last hurdle in the Euros, with champions Italy since failing to qualify for the World Cup. Southgate has highlighted his team’s consistency over the past four years in contrast.

“We wanted to sustain performance after the World Cup in Russia,” he said. “We knew that if we didn’t, we would be accused of having had an easy draw or whatever it might have been, flash in the pan, and the players responded to that in the Nations League that followed.

“They then responded to that in the European Championship and they responded to that again, in Budapest in particular by making sure we got the qualification nailed. We were ahead of that in the terms of the messaging to the team to make sure that we got those performances.”


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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