Gareth Southgate accepts Qatar issues likely to remain World Cup talking point

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England manager Gareth Southgate believes it is “highly unlikely” he will only be talking about football when the World Cup gets under way in Qatar.

Controversy has surrounded the Gulf state hosting the finals since they were awarded in 2010, with the country’s treatment of migrant workers and criminalisation of same-sex relationships among the issues which have caused the most concern.

Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, wrote to the association leaders of the 32 competing nations last week urging them not to “allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists”.

England captain Harry Kane will wear a OneLove armband at the tournament
England captain Harry Kane will wear a OneLove armband at the tournament (The FA handout)

As part of that, England captain Harry Kane will wear an armband supporting the campaign at the finals this winter, along with the skippers of the eight other European nations signed up whose teams have qualified.

Southgate, though, does not envisage there will be an end to the conversations around Qatar’s human rights record once the finals kick-off on November 20.

“I think that’s highly unlikely,” he said.

“We’ve been very clear on our standpoint on that. So, look I think we would like to focus primarily on the football. For every player, every coach and everybody travelling to a World Cup, this is a carnival of football. It is the thing you work for your whole life and you don’t want that to be diminished by everything else that is going on around it currently.

“But we recognise we are going to be in that situation, we’ve got to accept and deal with it.”

The treatment of the LGBTQ+ community in Qatar has also been a cause for concern for any supporters wishing to watch their country in action.

Qatar World Cup Package
FIFA president Gianni Infantino (left) and Qatar Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (Nick Potts/PA)

“So, regarding the LGBT community, we stand for inclusivity and we are very, very strong on that,” he said. “We think that is important in terms of all our supporters. 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. So it’s very, very important to us.”

There have also been calls for Iran to be ejected from the finals after the Ukrainian Association of Football made a request to FIFA for what they described as “systematic human rights violations” and “the possible involvement of Iran in the military aggression of Russia against Ukraine”.

Ukraine flag
Ukraine’s football association has asked for Iran to be ejected from the finals.

“With Iran, that’s a political situation that I don’t know enough about to be able to comment,” he said.

“Those decisions have to be taken by governing bodies and I can’t comment with enough authority to give you a considered view.”

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