London (AFP) – Gareth Southgate insists there would be no benefit from England boycotting the World Cup amid concerns about Qatar’s human rights record.
Southgate’s side head to Qatar for the World Cup in November, but the tournament is already a political minefield after criticism of the host nation.
Qatar has been under scrutiny over laws and conditions for migrant workers helping to build infrastructure for the tournament.
Germany, Netherlands and Norway players have already made strong statements about the Gulf state’s alleged right issues, increasing the pressure on England to do the same.
England captain Harry Kane this week said his team wanted to use the opportunity of playing in Qatar to “shine a light” on the situation there.
England boss Southgate has spoken with his squad about Qatar, but he is adamant staying away from the tournament in protest would have little effect.
“I don’t really know what that achieves. It would be a big story but the tournament would go ahead,” Southgate told reporters on Friday.
“The fact, unfortunately, is the biggest issue, which is non-religious and non-cultural, is what happened with the building of the stadiums. There is nothing we can do about that either, sadly.
“We have known for eight years that this is going to be in Qatar. Is the stance against Qatar as a country? We are intertwined, as we are seeing with Russia, with all sorts of investment in this country.
“It is such a complex world of deals as we have also seen with Saudi Arabia. This is complicated, the issues themselves aren’t complicated.”
With the issue proving so divisive, Southgate believes England will face criticism whatever action they take.
– ‘Use our voice’ –
“Whatever we do we are going to be criticised. We are back out to Qatar for the draw and that means more chances to meet people on the ground,” he said ahead of Saturday’s friendly against Switzerland.
“There are going to be things ongoing throughout the year. The players have stepped up to the plate on a number of issues.
“We have got to use our voice in the right way at the right time. The players are thinking through how they best respond and try to affect the things we might be able to affect.
“There are things that are cultural and religious that are going to be difficult to affect and change, but there is an opportunity to use our platform in a positive way, without a doubt.”
Southgate said Arsenal midfielder Emile Smith Rowe is unlikely to face the Swiss at Wembley after missing training on Friday.
England have already been hit with a host of withdrawals from the squad, including Covid-hit Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka.
“Emile didn’t train today, so I think (it is) unlikely he would be involved tomorrow, nothing too serious,” Southgate said.
“It was a shame to lose Bukayo (Saka), but we are back in these moments with Covid where there is a spike in the country and we are the same.
“There will be debuts this week for sure, whether that is tomorrow or Tuesday.”
Having lost to Italy in the Euro 2020 final last year, Southgate admitted he was shocked to see them beaten in their World Cup play-off semi-final against North Macedonia on Thursday.
“It was a big surprise. It’s clear that teams have a cycle, whether that was the cycle or the after-effects of the final, the emotion and everything else,” he said.
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