Southgate: Wellbeing of players always top priority amid racism storm

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Gareth Southgate has been in contact with England’s players to offer support after they were subjected to racist abuse in Montenegro.

March’s Euro 2020 qualification win in Podgorica was overshadowed by what the Football Association labelled “abhorrent racist chanting” aimed at the likes of Danny Rose, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Raheem Sterling.

Montenegro have since been ordered by UEFA to play their European Championship qualifier against Kosovo behind closed doors and Southgate has been in contact with his players.

Wellbeing is a particularly hot topic during Mental Health Awareness Week and the Football Association has launched a campaign with the Duke of Cambridge called Heads Up aimed at ending the stigma surrounding mental health.

“Very conscious of it,” Southgate said as the England squad prepare to meet up for the first time since March’s qualifier.

“I’ve spent a fair bit of time speaking with Raheem, Danny, Callum (Wilson), in particular, after that.

“We went through a long process with all of our staff and will pick that up with the players again because we all went through something it is important that we discuss.

“My priority over that period was the wellbeing of my players and I hope, and I feel from what that they’ve told me, that they feel well supported.

“That, in terms of the care, that they know where we stand, and they know that we’re there for them.

“Danny has also spoken brilliantly about the mental health aspects, and obviously we launched that charity partnership with the Duke of Cambridge yesterday.

“I think that’s also an important topic – not just in football, but across society, really.

“There will be a lot of people sitting at home thinking it’s just them and it isn’t just them. It affects a huge percentage of the population.”

Rose has spoken eloquently about both mental health and racism, with the Tottenham and England left-back left “lost for words a little” but “not surprised” by the leniency of Montenegro’s punishment.

Further UEFA charges, carrying fines amounting to 20,000 euros (£17,260), were handed down by the governing body for the setting off of fireworks, throwing objects on to the pitch, crowd disturbances and stairways being blocked.

When asked about the sanctions against Montenegro, England boss Southgate told BBC Radio 5 Live: “Well, my priority was how do my players feel afterwards? Were we supporting them well enough?

“And were we able to get messages out that might make a difference to how people view racism generally?

“Can we effect things not only in other countries but, most importantly, in our own country?

“The sanctions will always divide opinion and it is always difficult to know where you pitch that because what is a big fine to one nation and federation is not a big fine to others.

“I think the punishment of a behind-closed-doors game hits any football team and has an effect on their ability to win and also another financial hit as well.

“But I think it’s for others to decide on punishments. My priority as the manager is to protect my players, make sure they’re well looked after and try to use the position I am in to help educate other people.”

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