England manager Gareth Southgate said his squad will not be discouraged from speaking out about human rights abuses at the World Cup in Qatar, despite a plea from FIFA to focus on football.
The spotlight is on Qatar’s record on LGBTQ and women’s rights, as well as its treatment of foreign workers, who helped build the eight stadiums to host the biggest show in football.
A World Cup ambassador sparked outrage this week by calling homosexuality, which is illegal in the Gulf state, “damage in the mind”.
Southgate made reference to the impact of gay players on England’s victory in the women’s European Championship earlier this year as he insisted his squad will make a stand if LGBTQ fans are targeted during the tournament.
“Regarding the LGBTQ community we stand for inclusivity and we’re very strong on that,” said Southgate as he named his 26-man squad for the tournament on Thursday.
“We think that is important in terms of all our supporters and 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. It’s very, very important to us.”
In a letter to participating nations last week, FIFA asked for teams to “focus on football” and stop “handing out moral lessons.”
Under Southgate’s stewardship, England have consistently taken a strong stand against racism.
The Three Lions defied boos from their own fans at the start of Euro 2020 to take the knee against racial discrimination.
And Southgate said it was “highly unlikely” they would avoid talking about non-sporting matters during the tournament.
“We have always spoken about issues we think should be talked about, particularly ones we think we can affect,” he added.
“We have spoken in the same way other nations have spoken about this tournament and the human rights challenges. We’ve been very clear with our standpoint on that.
“We would also like to focus primarily on the football. For every player, every coach, everybody travelling to a World Cup, this is the carnival of football.
“This is the thing you work for your whole life so you don’t want that to be diminished by everything else that’s going on around it currently. But we recognise that we are going to be in that situation and we’ve got to deal with it.”
England have also been placed in a group laden with political tension alongside Iran, the USA and Wales.
Iran have faced calls from Ukraine to be expelled from the tournament over the alleged supply of weapons to Russia as they wage war on Kyiv.
Political protests have also swept across Iran in the wake of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the country’s morality police.
“With Iran, that’s a political situation I don’t know enough about,” said Southgate.
“That’s a decision that has to be taken by governing bodies.”
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