The two Conservatives fighting to become UK prime minister on Tuesday vowed to host a reception for England’s victorious Lionesses, as Boris Johnson faced criticism for allegedly snubbing the footballers.
The women’s team won the Euro 2022 tournament at London’s Wembley Stadium on Sunday, earning England its first major football trophy since 1966.
But after watching the England men’s team at their own Euro final last year, Johnson skipped the women’s match, and was also absent from the opening last week of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
He watched the women’s final against Germany at his Chequers country retreat, not far from London, a day after holding a delayed wedding party with his wife Carrie.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz did make the trip to Wembley, and several commentators suggested Johnson did not want to risk being booed by the public as he prepares to leave office after a spate of scandals.
Neither is there any plan for a Downing Street reception for the women’s team this week, Johnson’s spokesman confirmed, despite the England cricket and rugby teams getting officially feted in years past.
The prime minister was in Northern Ireland on Monday for the funeral of the territory’s late leader David Trimble, and is going on holiday from Wednesday to Sunday.
But Johnson is open to granting the England squad’s manager and players state honours, the spokesman said, as “clearly the public want to see (the) Lionesses receive recognition”.
Former Conservative sports minister Tracey Crouch said she would be “horrified” if there were no official welcome for the women’s team, and urged action by the two Tory rivals bidding to succeed Johnson.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss — who did attend Sunday’s final — and former finance minister Rishi Sunak duly obliged by promising a reception in 10 Downing Street after Johnson leaves in September.
“The Lionesses have been an inspiration to our nation,” a spokesperson for the Truss campaign said.
The main opposition Labour party meanwhile urged the government to capitalise on the momentum given to sport for girls and women in Britain, accusing it of squandering past opportunities.
The government insisted it was investing millions of pounds, and said it plans to name sports facilities after each of the 23 England squad members in their hometowns.