England manager Gareth Southgate believes there is “not much more players can do” to address human rights issues in Qatar after the decision to wear special captain’s armbands during the World Cup was criticized.
The Football Federation announced on Wednesday that it had joined nine other European associations in the OneLove anti-discrimination campaign.
As part of that, England captain Harry Kane will wear an armband in support of the campaign in this winter’s finals, along with captains of the other eight European nations entered and whose teams have qualified.
FA Chief Executive Mark Bullingham says he has been assured that England’s LGBTQ+ fans will not be arrested 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 about how safe they will be in the finals this winter.
Football faced widespread pressure to highlight ongoing problems in Qatar as Southgate defended the last move.
Asked if there was a question of idealism versus realism about what sport can achieve in raising awareness in Qatar, he replied: “I think that’s the case. I did a lot of research.
“I spoke to many people, from human rights lawyers to the group of migrant workers I met in Qatar.
“There were some requests that were made in terms of areas that we could raise, speak up and support. I think what the FA tried to do yesterday was put them on the table.
“So separate from that is the armband. This is an agreement between several European nations where we felt it was a collective stance that would again get people to discuss and talk about these issues.
“The people I’ve spoken to have explained to me – human rights lawyers in particular – that there’s not much more players can do than talk about these issues and put them on the table.
“In the end, we are asking for changes in a country that we respect, which has advanced a lot, but we also have no control over.
“Talking about the issues and raising the issues and putting them on the table is the vehicle that people involved in the sport have used in the past and that’s what we’re trying to do this time.
“So there’s always going to be criticism, whatever you do and we have to understand and accept that, but we’re trying to affect the areas that we’ve been asked to affect and I don’t think there’s much more to it than that, at this point, unless other ideas come up and other requests that we think fit are on the table, so it’s hard to do more than what we’re asked to do.”
The FA continues to request further details on the assurances given by the local organizing committee that all fans, including those in 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 wasn’t going far enough.
“There are only a few players we can do and I think with the FA and the other nations we are doing what we can,” he said.
“I don’t think you’re going to please everyone, no matter what we’ve done, but we’re trying and we’re trying to make a difference any way we can.
“I had an argument 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 than people doing individual things. There is so much that players can really do.
“I think 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 have definitely taken a step forward to help some of the problems in Qatar.”