DOHA : England manager Gareth Southgate said on Monday it was time he and fellow World Cup managers were allowed to focus their energies on their jobs rather than the off-field issues that continue to dog the Qatar showpiece.
Southgate’s side overwhelmed Iran 6-2 in their Group B opener at the Khalifa International Stadium, but the build-up to the match was overshadowed by controversy over the OneLove armband England’s Harry Kane, and six other captains, were intending to wear at the tournament.
The wearing of the multi-coloured armband, in support of diversity and inclusion, was scrapped at the last minute by the English Football Association and the other associations under pressure from FIFA, who could potentially have instructed referees to show players’ yellow cards.
On the eve of the match, Southgate had said he supported Kane’s desire to wear the OneLove armband and was also asked by Iranian reporters about the ongoing protests in Iran.
Southgate said he had some sympathy for FIFA’s stance but preferred to talk about his side’s performance.
“I think every coach now deserves the right to be able to focus on the football and we understand there are a lot of issues that people want to want us to speak about,” Southgate, whose side again took the knee before kickoff in support of anti-discrimination campaigns, told reporters.
“We’ve done that for 12 months, but this is a World Cup. We won’t refuse to speak and we won’t refuse to answer any questions otherwise answer anything. But the predominant part of my energy has to be on preparing the team.”
FIFA’s pressure to prevent captains wearing the OneLove armband in a country where homosexuality is illegal provoked a furious reaction from groups representing the LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.
Southgate said it was down to the federations to deal with FIFA over the matter, not the players.
“Those discussions have been ongoing between several European nations and FIFA,” Southgate said.
“Actually, I do understand FIFA’s situation in that you can set a precedent and it’s very difficult then, where do you draw the line? I think in an ideal world, that would have been a much clearer situation earlier.
“People know what we stand for, this group of players, we’re taking the knee because it’s something we feel we can make a difference with.
“There are some things that I’m not sure we’re going to be able to make a difference with and therefore we should channel our energies in the right directions.”