Gareth Southgate said on Sunday that England will take the knee before their World Cup matches in Qatar to send a strong message of “inclusivity”.
On the eve of England’s Group B opener against Iran in Doha, Southgate once again found himself fielding as many questions about politics as he did on his team’s prospects.
The build-up to the tournament has been dominated by concerns over the Gulf state’s treatment of migrant workers, women and the LGBTQ community.
England did not take the knee — a gesture against racism and other forms of discrimination — in their most recent matches in September.
The gesture has also been scaled back in the Premier League but Southgate’s players have agreed to repeat it before their World Cup matches.
“We feel it’s a strong statement that will go around the world, to young people in particular, to show that inclusivity is very important,” he said.
England are one of several European teams who aim to show support for the LGBTQ community.
A number of captains are planning to wear a rainbow armband with the “OneLove” slogan even though FIFA wants skippers to wear different armbands to promote social messages as part of a partnership with United Nations agencies.
England’s match with Iran also takes place against the background of turmoil in the Islamic republic.
Iran’s clerical leadership has been shaken by more than two months of women-led demonstrations sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman of Kurdish origin who had been arrested by the morality police in Tehran.
But Southgate was wary about giving his view on the situation in Iran.
“I don’t feel informed enough to comment on what’s going on in Iran,” he said. “I don’t think it’s my place to comment on it either.”
The England boss found himself having to defend his record ahead of his latest attempt to lead England to their first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup.
The Three Lions were World Cup semi-finalists in 2018 and finished as European Championship runners-up last year, but Southgate still receives criticism for his perceived lack of adventure.
“We can only answer that on the pitch by winning matches and scoring goals,” he said.
“The first thing for a coach is to enable (the team) to win. Then of course you want to play football that excites people, that players enjoy.
“Our challenge is to give supporters a tournament that is memorable. We have taken them on a fantastic ride in the last two tournaments.”
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