Gareth Southgate says England ‘will not dodge human rights questions’


Gareth Southgate believes England have “made a stick for their own back” by speaking out about human rights at the World Cup, but will not stop his players from talking about such issues in Qatar.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino wrote to all 32 participating nations earlier this month urging them to focus on the action on the pitch and “not allow football to be dragged into any ideological or political struggle that exists during the controversial tournament.

Southgate has already been questioned about human rights issues in Qatar during England’s qualifying campaign and his players also came forward when questions were asked about the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community and other social issues.

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Harry Kane is one of several national captains planning to take part in the ‘OneLove’ anti-discrimination campaign during the tournament, as England traveled to Qatar on Tuesday in a plane dubbed the ‘Rain Bow’ – the symbol of LGBTQ+ pride.

Leicester midfielder James Maddison was the first player to face the media and be asked about LGBTQ+ rights, saying the squad “stands for diversity and inclusion”.

Southgate – who met migrant workers with his squad at England’s Al Wakrah training base on Wednesday – believes players’ expectations to speak out on political points have risen in recent years, but while he would like this not to affect performance, wants them to express their opinion.

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“We’re getting more questions like that now than ever before,” he said.

“Maybe it’s because we made a stick for our own backs that we handled some pretty hefty issues pretty well, I think, as a group.

“But the reality is very few of us have a university education, we do our best to make sure we are as informed as possible and I think we will speak up if we think we can make a difference.

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“I think the background to why they’ve had that awareness and made that impact is because their upbringing has been so diverse.

“I think the diversity of the team brings that difference in thinking because of the experiences in their own lives.”

A collective experience for much of Southgate’s squad has been victims of racism in recent years – with both Bulgaria and Hungary facing sanctions after their fans were violently berated during matches.

“We also got into situations then where we were dealing with a team that had racism,” Southgate told TBEN Radio 5 Live.

We’re getting more questions like that now than ever before. Maybe it’s because we made a rod for our own backs that we handled some pretty hefty issues pretty well, I think, as a group

Gareth Southgate

“For example in Bulgaria, where probably 20 years ago we wouldn’t have even spoken, taken action or thought about walking off a field or anything like that.

“So society has also changed and I think there are different expectations about that. I think it’s always my job to try and protect the players, I need to manage them the best I can, but also protect them and make sure they can focus on the primary goal for the next few weeks.

“So we’re not going to shy away from questions about human rights issues in Qatar for example, but we also need to be aware of how much we can influence and also make sure it doesn’t take more energy and more time from focus to get the team to the best possible level.”

Speaking of his own role as someone who has become something of a spokesman for the nation in recent times, Southgate thinks he may have had a harder time than his predecessors.

“We went through a period where there were probably more off-field situations to deal with than periods I can remember in my playing career,” he added.

“But maybe my managers with England have had to deal with that, it’s hard for me to think back on what they might have handled.

“It certainly feels like there is more of a need for commentary or being aware of social issues and how to influence and influence them.

“I understand it’s a role where we can make a difference and that’s part of the privilege of the job that you can influence things in a positive way, but of course I need to find that balance that people expect us to win. Win football games and they want me to focus my energy and time on that.

“If we’re talking about this role six years ago and now… you’d be pretty stupid if you didn’t really learn anything in those six years!”


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