England manager Gareth Southgate said “it is difficult to do more than we’ve been asked” on tackling human rights issues in Qatar amid a backlash over the “OneLove” campaign.
The English FA is one of 10 European associations including France, Germany and the Netherlands, who initiated the proposal, to commit to wearing special captain’s armbands at the World Cup finals later this year to promote inclusion and diversity.
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However, Amnesty International gave the proposal a mixed reception, citing what it saw as “years of FA reticence and over-optimistic statements about progress in Qatar,” while human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell described the “OneLove” design — featuring a heart containing colours representative of all backgrounds — as “too vague.”
However, speaking ahead of England’s UEFA Nations League game against Italy in Milan — where captain Harry Kane will wear the armband for the first time — Southgate said: “I think that we’ve done a lot of research, the FA has held countless meetings with the NGOs [Non-Government Organisations], with the migrant workers in Qatar.
“So they’ve gathered all of the information and all the requests of the areas that people wanted affected and what was clear was there is a limit to what can be achieved.
“But 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.
Ivan Toney shares his pride after being called up to the England senior squad for the Nations League matches against Italy and Germany.
“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. 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.”
Qatar was a hugely controversial choice for the finals when it was awarded the 2022 tournament 12 years ago, not least because same-sex activity is a criminal offence there with the possibility of a prison sentence of one to three years for adults convicted of consensual gay or lesbian sex.
There is no recognition of civil partnerships in the Gulf state, which does not allow people to campaign for LGBTQIA+ rights.
On the field, Southgate will aim to arrest a troubling run of form which has seen England fail to win their last four games, having not scored a goal from open play since March.
Last time out in June, England suffered their worst home defeat for 97 years as a much-changed lineup was thrashed 4-0 by Hungary at Molineux and Southgate admitted mistakes in balancing the demands of his players at the end of a long season.
“We analysed everything, every department,” he said. “I think when you’re winning, we were on a run going into that summer of 22 matches without losing. And you maybe don’t analyse the victories quite as acutely as you analyse the defeats.
“That’s probably not the right approach in actual fact. But I felt I compromised certain decisions internally, and you don’t win if you compromise.
“It was good for me to sharpen that focus again, because what we’re going into, we’ve got to be completely ruthless. And I’ve got to create an environment for the players that allows them to excel and to provide them with the best platform to be at the level they’ve been for the last five or six years.”
Jordan Henderson has not travelled as he continues to recover from a hamstring problem and John Stones is suspended, but the rest of England’s 28-man squad is available.