Gareth Southgate admits it is a “great shame” that sections of England supporters will not travel to Qatar for the World Cup this winter and stressed that no one is “complacent” about the issues involved.
Accusations concerning the treatment of migrant workers and a poor record of human rights have plagued the Gulf state since it was controversially awarded the finals in 2010.
Male homosexuality is punishable by a prison sentence, same-sex marriages are not recognised by the government and women’s rights are much tighter than in other parts of the world.
England boss Southgate has said he is now ‘clear’ on the issues of hosting the World Cup in the region and plans to hold talks with his Three Lions squad ahead of the upcoming friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast.
“I think I’m quite clear on the areas of concern about this tournament,” he said.
“The building of the stadiums was the first and there’s nothing we can do about that now. They’re built.
“There are obviously ongoing concerns about the rights of workers and the conditions they live in and those areas.
“It seems universally accepted that it’s better than it was but not in the position where people think it could be. And maybe policies that have been put in place are not always enforced as they might be.
“Then there are the issues that potentially threaten our fans when they travel: the rights of women and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in particular.
“Sadly, through discussions that I’ve had, I don’t think some of those communities are going to go and that’s a great shame.
“We stand for inclusivity as a team – that’s been the big driver of a lot of the stances we’ve taken in the last couple of years – and it would be horrible to think some of our fans feel they can’t go because they feel threatened or they’re worried about their safety.”
Southgate insists he is taking the problem seriously and will “go further” in getting a feel for the issues when he travels to Doha for the World Cup draw next month.
England’s players have been taking the knee before matches for more than a year in a gesture against racism and discrimination but Southgate also admits a different approach is required to show their stance on the situation.
“I don’t think it’s something where we’re just going to be able to come out with a statement that will satisfy everything,” he added.
“This is different to taking the knee and the importance we felt on that. We’re not saying this is any less important.
“We feel the World Cup is an opportunity to highlight some of these issues and we have a platform to be able to do that. We’ve also got to do that in a responsible way.
“I’m not sure that just wearing a T-shirt makes a difference. I don’t totally know what we can do in every aspect to make a difference.
“I think we have to be realistic about what that might be. We’re going to a country that FIFA decided where this tournament was going to be played: it’s culturally different and religiously different.
“So, there are some things we’re not going to be able to affect. Maybe there are some things that we can affect.
“If we can and we think they’re worthwhile, then we’ll try to do that. Without a doubt, one of the priorities in my mind is our own fans and how they’re going to be dealt with in particular, but there may be other issues.
“I don’t think any of us are complacent about any of it. I’m certainly taking it very seriously. I want to make sure the players are protected, I want to make sure they are able to use their voice in the right way but I also don’t want them to be used with broader agendas at play, perhaps.
“So it’s going to be complicated. And I think we’re going to get some criticism whatever we do, but we’re going to try to do the best that we can.”
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