England manager Gareth Southgate believes there is “not a lot more players can do” to tackle the human rights issues in Qatar after the decision to wear special captain’s armbands during the World Cup was criticised.
The Football Association announced on Wednesday it has joined nine other European federations in joining the OneLove anti-discrimination campaign.
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.
FA chief executive Mark Bullingham says he has been assured that LGBTQ+ England fans will not face arrest for holding hands or kissing in public at the World Cup in Qatar.
Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in the Gulf state, raising concerns within the LGBTQ+ community over how safe they will be at the finals this winter.
Football has faced widespread pressure to highlight the ongoing issues in Qatar, as Southgate defended the latest move.
Asked if there was a question of idealism versus realism as to what the sport can achieve in raising awareness in Qatar, he replied: “I think this is the case. I’ve done a lot of research.
“I’ve spoken with a lot of people from the human rights lawyers to the migrant worker group that I met out in Qatar.
“There were certain requests that were made in terms of areas we might raise, talk about and support. I think what the FA have tried to do yesterday is put those on the table.
“Then, separate to that, is the armband. That’s an agreement between several European nations where we felt it was a collective stance that again would lead to people having discussions and talking about these issues.
“The people I’ve spoken to have explained to me – human rights lawyers in particular – that there’s not a lot more the players can do than talk about those issues and put them on the table.
“In the end, we are asking for change in a country we are respectful of, that has made a lot of progress, but also we don’t have any control over.
“Talking about the issues and raising the issues and putting them on the table is the vehicle that people involved in sport we’ve used in the past and it is what we’re trying to do this time.
“So there will always be criticism whatever you do and we have to understand and we have to accept that but we are trying to affect the areas we’ve been asked to affect and I don’t think there’s a lot more than that, at this moment in time, unless other ideas come forward and other requests that we think are suitable are on the table, then it’s difficult to do more than we’ve been asked.”
The FA continues to request more detail on the assurances given by the local organising committee that all fans, including those from the LGBTQ+ community, will be welcome, safe and secure in Qatar.
Kane echoed Southgate’s sentiments when asked what his message would be to those who say the armband gesture was not going far enough.
“There’s only so much as players we can do and I think with the FA and the other nations we’re doing what we can,” he said.
“I don’t think you’re going to please everyone no matter what we’ve done, but we are trying and we are trying to make a difference in any way that we can.
“I had a discussion with Christian (Eriksen), obviously he’s the captain of Denmark, and Hugo (Lloris) at Spurs.
“It was about coming together and I think being together sends a bigger message rather than people doing individual stuff. There’s only so much the players can actually do.
“I think by wearing the armband on the biggest stage in the world, one of the most televised events in the world, will have an impact.
“But we can only do what we can and we’ve definitely taken a step forward to help some of the issues out there in Qatar.”