England boss Gareth Southgate questions issue of a World Cup boycott

Gareth Southgate believes the England football team can do more good protesting about human rights violations in Qatar at the next World Cup, rather than by boycotting it.

Whilst Wales and Scotland must go through a play-off process complicated by the involvement of Ukraine, and European champions Italy have failed to qualify, England’s place at the controversial World Cup has been guaranteed.

It will be the first such tournament in the middle of a European season and in addition to widespread unease at how it was awarded in 2010, there is unhappiness it is going to a country with such a poor human rights record.

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As part of starting their build-up in earnest this week, Southgate’s players have been briefed by the Football Association (FA) about the situation in Qatar.

England manager Gareth Southgate. Picture: Rafal Oleksiewicz/PA Wire.

A squad with a well-earned reputation for its moral conscience is considering how best to express its views, and there will be discussions with other squads about combined action. Nothing is expected at tonight’s Wembley friendly versus Switzerland, and there is little chance of England refusing to play in the gulf state.

“I don’t really know what that achieves,” argued manager Southgate. “It would of course be a big story but this tournament would go ahead.

“The biggest issue probably that is non-religious and non-cultural is what happened with the building of the stadiums (with disquiet over the number of migrant workers killed in the process) and there’s nothing we can do about that either, sadly.

“Is the stance against Qatar as a country? If it is we’re intertwined as we’ve seen with what’s happening with Russia with all sorts of investment in our country – are we all going to stop shopping in Sainsbury’s (whose largest overall shareholder is the Qatar Investment Authority)? – the Shard (jointly owned by Qatar and its designers), all sorts of property investments. We’re in a complex world of deals as we’ve seen with Saudi Arabia recently. On the one hand people are saying about the investment in Newcastle (United), on the other we’re going and asking them to reduce the oil prices so we can get our petrol cheaper.

England manager Gareth Southgate during a training session at St George's Park. Picture: PA

“The issues themselves aren’t complicated but all of the repercussions of diplomatic relations and dealing with other countries and other organisations are extremely complicated, I think.

“My understanding is the discussions the FA have had with organisations like Amnesty International is they feel there would be more change if we go and these things are highlighted.”

A smug sense of woefully misguided superiority rather than any morality caused England not to enter World Cups before 1950.

“It’s an opportunity to shine a light on the issues and how we can make change for the better and use our platform,” said vice-captain Jordan Henderson.

“We don’t want to rush into anything because it’s been a few days since we’ve been briefed properly with the research the FA have done.”

One characteristic of Southgate’s squad is it is prepared to take a stand on moral issues, even in the face of opposition from parliamentarians.

“Whatever we decide to do as a team will be criticised and will never be enough,” conceded the Liverpool midfielder.

“Everybody knows we stand for no discrimination, football is for everyone, and we’ll always stand by that and push that.

“Taking the knee is a big talking point still and that’s great.

“That’s one example we handled really well.

“At the beginning I could hear fans in the UK booing when we were doing it and now I don’t hear any (he might not be able to say that if he played for some of Yorkshire’s league clubs), I hear cheers all the time, so I feel we’ve made positive change in a very short space of time but there’s still a long way to go.”

There is also the small matter of preparing for the football, with only this month’s friendlies – England host Ivory Coast on Tuesday – and six Nations League games before naming a squad for Qatar.

Tammy Abraham, Aaron Ramsdale, Reece James, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sam Johnstone and Bukayo Saka pulled out of the original squad through illness or injury, Sheffield-born Kyle Walker is rested, Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips not match-fit and Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho dropped. Former Huddersfield Town loanee Emile Smith Rowe is a doubt.

Southampton’s Kyle Walker-Peters is the only available right-back. Crystal Palace defenders Marc Guehi and Tyrick Mitchell are also uncapped – for now.