Gareth Southgate believes England players should not have been dealing with controversy over the OneLove armband hours before their World Cup opener but insists “it has not been a distraction”.
England, along with six other nations, will not wear the OneLove armband at the World Cup in Qatar, with the U-turn announced just three hours before their 6-2 win over Iran.
The FA and Harry Kane had been adamant the England captain would wear the armband as a message of anti-discrimination and support for the LGBTQ+ community.
But on Monday morning, FA CEO Mark Bullingham said England had been exploring whether there is “another way to show our values” after FIFA threatened to book any captain wearing the OneLove rainbow armband in World Cup matches.
Less than an hour later, a statement released by the Football Associations of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland confirmed they would not wear the armband.
Sky Sports News understands it wasn’t just the fear of yellow cards that deterred captains from wearing the armband, but also the possibility they could face a one-game ban during the tournament.
Asked for his thoughts on the situation at his post-match press conference, England manager Southgate said: “It’s not something myself and the players should have been involved with in the last 24 hours.
“Those discussions have been ongoing between several European nations and FIFA. I do understand FIFA’s situation in that you can set a precedent and it’s difficult where to draw the line. I think in an ideal world, that would have been a much clearer situation earlier.
“It has not been a distraction for us. We had to focus on the football, we can’t be involved in that now. We have to concentrate on performances and training, especially the players. It’s not for them to have to deal with that.”
FIFA subsequently confirmed its ‘No Discrimination’ campaign had been brought forward and Kane wore the approved armband during England’s opening Group B victory.
In the second game on Monday, Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk also followed Kane by not wearing the OneLove armband against Senegal.
Southgate added: “People know who we stand for, people know this group of players. We took a knee as we felt we could make a difference. There are other things where we can’t make a difference, so we have to channel our energy in other directions.
“Every coach has the right to focus on the football. There are other issues we want to speak about. For 12 months we have done that. But this is the World Cup.
“We won’t refuse to answer anything and there’s nothing I won’t speak about, but the predominant part of my energy has to be on preparing the team.
“Other people at our federation have to deal with our issues. It’s not the responsibility of the players, they didn’t decide where we are. That’s my feeling at the moment.”
Keane: England should’ve stuck to their guns
Sky Sports’ Roy Keane speaking to ITV:
“The players could have worn the OneLove armband for the first game and taken their punishment.
“That would have been a great statement, take your yellow card and the medicine and move on. You don’t wear it for the second game as you don’t want to get suspended.
“England and Wales should have stuck to their guns and gone through with it.”
Amnesty International: These are issues on which FIFA should be leading, not cracking down on
Responding to FIFA’s threats to sanction players who planned to wear ‘OneLove’ armbands to show support for the LGBTI community, Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice, said: “Last-minute threats to sanction players for wearing messages in support of human rights and equality is the latest example of FIFA failing to fully uphold its own values and responsibilities. Sport does not happen in a vacuum and these are issues on which FIFA should be leading, not cracking down on.
“Agreements on armbands, and better protections for LGBT communities, should have been reached a long time ago.
“We applaud the courage of teams and players who have spoken out about human rights and we hope they continue to do so. Fans, players and FAs want to ensure that football can be a vehicle to promote human rights, and FIFA needs to heed these calls quickly. It must not only encourage messages of equality, but take proactive action to ensure LGBTI people are protected.
“And let’s not forget the migrant workers who made the tournament possible. They must be compensated in full for the unspeakable abuse they suffered.”
Carra: England will look weak if they bow to FIFA pressure
Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher had said England would look “weak” if they agreed not to wear the OneLove armband following continued pressure from FIFA.
Speaking on Sky Sports News‘ World Cup Breakfast before the U-turn, Carragher said: “Harry Kane has to wear it.
“England have made a big noise about the fact that he is going to wear this, that this is their protest to the World Cup being in Qatar, human rights and everything that goes on in the country that people have criticised.
“This is England’s way of showing that they don’t agree with everything that’s going on in the country.
“They can’t pull out now. The fact that Harry Kane may get a yellow card only strengthens the campaign. For England to pull out because of a yellow card for Kane, I think would be weak, so I think it should make them more determined.”
‘Welsh FA incredibly disappointed by FIFA’s canny political move’
Sky Sports News reporter Geraint Hughes provided the Welsh perspective, following the news Gareth Bale would be one of seven captains who would not wear the OneLove armband in Qatar.
“I had a conversation with the chief executive of the Welsh FA, Noel Mooney, just prior to the official announcement, when he let me know what was going to be happening – and they are just incredibly, incredibly disappointed,” he said.
“For Wales, this was not just about aligning themselves with a number of other football associations, but part of their cultural identity and trying to grow football to being inclusive.
“They have worked very much as an association to make it more inclusive in men’s and women’s football, and the growth with girl’s and boy’s football as well. There was also the realisation the LGBTQ+ community love football and love coming to watch the men’s and women’s senior teams and they want them to be part of the Red Wall.
“The Rainbow Wall are not here in Qatar because they are too scared to come and they don’t want to come because they don’t want to be part of what they see as a sportswashing event. So the whole point of the Welsh FA making this gesture with the players was to be in solidarity with that community. It really showed that they cared about them.
“I always try in my reporting to give all sides of the story, but it’s very difficult not to see this as a very, very canny political move by FIFA, where they have timed it to perfection, as far as they are concerned.”
‘LGBTQ+ solidarity has taken a hit with armband climb-down’
Sports Media LGBTQ+ editor and consultant Jon Holmes:
“I think the pressure that has been put on the national associations by FIFA has resulted in this climb-down. It’s the shared sense of unity of the European nations coming together to make this collective stand that has been damaged and that has been felt by the LGBT community.
“I think there were mixed feelings around how effective the OneLove armband would be in raising awareness of LGBT human rights, as well as the wider anti-discrimination message, but if there’s any sort of positive to be taken from this, I think it has highlighted the importance of the sentiment and that might actually make it go a little bit further.
“I think they could have [taken a stronger stance]. I think it would have been a very different decision for England going first out of all of these nations. Perhaps there were other ways they could have had that visibility of the armband; I know it has been worn on TV today during the live game, but perhaps members of the coaching staff could have worn it.
“England, in particular, were always in a difficult position and I do have some sympathy for the players and the staff being put in this difficult position just hours before kick-off. For them to have to make the decision on the hoof was really hard.
“The fact is Harry Kane is still wearing a ‘No Discrimination’ armband in the game today, so that is something to be taken from it. But it was a way to show solidarity with LGBT people and that hasn’t happened, so of course it’s a hit.”
‘FIFA’s behaviour appalling after such strong support from England and Wales’
Robbie Dos Santos, Stonewall’s director of communications and external affairs, on Sky Sports News:
“We’re incredibly disappointed. It’s been so fantastic to see so much strong support from the England team, from the Wales team and other captains across the tournament for LGBTQ+ rights.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. Just seeing so many high-profile people talking about LGBTQ+ rights and in a country where it is so badly needed. It’s really disappointing that FIFA are essentially trying to brush human rights under the carpet and are politicising what would have been a very peaceful protest.
“What we’ve seen in the years building up to the tournament is a real desire by the English and Welsh football teams to show as much support for LGBTQ+ rights, for women’s rights and for labour rights over this tournament. I really cannot fault how steadfast they have been in supporting our communities and others.
“But FIFA have really disappointed us. They have reneged on promises, said some incredibly unhelpful things about LGBTQ+ rights and it’s all a huge distraction from the fact that in Qatar and 70 countries across the world, LGBTQ+ people are criminalised for just existing, for daring to have relationships with people they love and to be who they are.
“I just think FIFA has really misread the global mood on this and the way they are behaving is absolutely appalling.”
‘Today we feel betrayed’ – Fans groups furious with FIFA over armband threat
The Football Supporters’ Association expressed its “contempt” for FIFA after plans by England and Wales to wear anti-discrimination armbands were dropped under threat of sporting sanction.
A statement read: “To paraphrase FIFA president Gianni Infantino – today LGBT+ football supporters and their allies will feel angry. Today we feel betrayed. Today we feel contempt for an organisation that has shown its true values by giving the yellow card to players and the red card to tolerance.
“Never again should a World Cup be handed out solely on the basis of money and infrastructure. No country which falls short on LGBT+ rights, women’s rights, worker’s rights or any other universal human right should be given the honour of hosting a World Cup.
“Since 2010 we have been raising questions about the suitability of Qatar as a World Cup host. Everyone could see this coming and it’s astonishing that, on the morning of England’s World Cup opener, FIFA are trying to censor players for sharing a positive message.”
Anti-discrimination campaign group Kick It Out also condemned FIFA’s move.
“We are disappointed that FIFA are intent on imposing sanctions on European nations who choose to wear the ‘One Love’ armband, preventing teams from sending a strong statement to the world that diversity and inclusion are an integral part of the game,” its statement read.
“This decision continues to highlight FIFA’s failure to address concerns of both human rights groups and the LGBTQ+ community in the build-up to this tournament.
“Players and fans should not have had to bear the burden of FIFA’s mistakes and we will continue to support Gareth Southgate, and his team, as they look to explore other ways to support inclusion in football.
“Football should be a game for everyone and Kick It Out continue to stand with the LGBTQ+ community in solidarity.”
Meanwhile, a joint statement from 3 Lions Pride and The Rainbow Wall says FIFA is breaching basic human rights with its decision.
It read: “All of us at 3 Lions Pride and The Rainbow Wall stand together in condemning the actions of FIFA today. In seeking to censor European FAs and players by forcing them to abandon using the ‘OneLove’ armband aimed at tackling all forms of discrimination, FIFA are guilty of crushing the basic human rights to freedom of speech and of expression that every single one of us should have without question.
“In doing so, FIFA are also guilty of silencing anti-discrimination work within the game and of giving a platform to hatred.
“This abuse of power by those who have chosen to remain silent for so long is a gross betrayal of trust and cannot be allowed to stand. We have no faith in FIFA, no trust in this World Cup, there is #NoPrideWithoutAll #WeBelong.”