Gareth Southgate says that he will not get drawn into a virtue-signalling contest at the World Cup and that he can cope with any criticism that comes his way.
The Football Association abandoned plans for captain Harry Kane to wear a OneLove armband against Iran after Fifa threatened sporting sanctions against those countries involved.
Southgate feared that Kane or even his entire team might have been prevented from entering the field against Iran had they ignored Fifa’s threat.
There is now pressure on England to come up with a new form of protest, particularly after Germany’s players responded to Fifa’s intervention by covering their mouths before their defeat to Japan. If they do then it will be in contrast to Wales, who have said they will not be making any protest at their game with Iran with manager Rob Page suggesting the Germans will wish in hindsight they had focused fully on football.
England’s players will discuss the issue before Friday night’s game against the United States, but Southgate insisted he and his squad will not be forced into an act of virtue-signalling to appease their critics.
‘We could rush into things that don’t make a difference’
“I noticed the Danish coach speaking after their game and he felt he hadn’t got enough bandwidth to deal with the football,” said Southgate. “I think that’s the risk that we’re all running. I’m quite comfortable with our position and I think we should be confident in what we stand for. What we think we can affect.
“There was a plan [before Iran], we weren’t able to carry out. What do we do now? Do we all try to out-do each other on a gesture that might actually be…however we do it, probably won’t be enough. Probably could be criticised.
“Do we make a better video than Australia? That would be difficult because it was brilliantly done. Do we have to come up with a better gesture than Germany did?
“We want to support the LGBTQ community in particular and recognise that a lot of those people aren’t here with us, and we wanted them here with us.
“But we could also rush into doing things that don’t land well and don’t really make any difference and take a lot of time and energy away from where we need to be now.
“I understand that is going to be uncomfortable for people because I could be criticised, the captain has been criticised, the organisation will be criticised. I’m probably more used to this than all the others, frankly, so it’s having less impact on me.
“I’m very comfortable with what I stand for and how I deal with people every day of my life is more important than a statement that might land well and might not.
“I’m going to be trying to reflect things for the next, hopefully, 30-odd years of my life, and of course there’s a moment here where you hope to highlight things but the fact we are still talking about it does. So we’re not refusing to answer questions, but I think we have to be careful not to be seen to be trying to do something.”
‘We want to make people aware of how we feel’
England will continue to take the knee before kick-off for every World Cup game. Defender John Stones reiterated Southgate’s point that they would not look to copy other teams’ protests.
“I’m sure in our meeting tonight [Thursday], we’ll talk about these sorts of things,” said Stones. “We don’t want to get carried away with what other people are doing.
“We want to stay true to our own values, but at the same time we do want to make things heard and aware of how we feel. We want to get everyone’s opinion across in the right way. I feel it’s really difficult at the minute to do that without upsetting peoples’ rules or whatever it might be. There’s a really fine line with all this and so far we’re trying to stick to our values and what we believe in as a team, to make sure we don’t get pushed over.
“We are so privileged to be able to make an impact in these kinds of ways. It’s literally a little conversation about something tonight and all having the same view on it which we do pretty much every time, so I think we will take it from there and see what happens tomorrow [Friday].”
Wales: Let’s focus on football, or risk losing to Iran
Wales, however, are adamant they will not follow Germany’s lead as they look forward to their game with Iran.
“No, we have campaigns going on that we are fully supportive of as an association and as a Welsh government,” said Page. “I want my players to focus fully on playing games of football and winning games. I am sure Germany now, in hindsight, will probably have the same message.”
And captain Gareth Bale suggested he feared being criticised for the gesture if Wales failed to win.
“I guess when teams try to do something else and the result doesn’t go the right way they get criticised for not concentrating on the football,” he said. “So for us, now that the tournament has started, we really need to concentrate on the football ourselves.”