‘We will speak’: Gareth Southgate hits back at Fifa’s ‘focus on football’ message

Fifa have been criticised for urging teams to avoid ‘being dragged into every ideological or political battle’ ahead of the Qatar World Cup

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Thursday 10 November 2022 22:30 GMT
Gareth Southgate suggests England will ignore plea to avoid human-rights discussions

Gareth Southgate has told Fifa “I’ll choose if I’m going to speak or not”, as he declared it “unlikely” that anyone at the World Cup would follow the governing body’s advice to stick to football.

In a letter leaked online last week, Fifa wrote to the 32 World Cup nations pleading with them to focus on the game rather than human rights issues in Qatar.

The Independent has been told that the letter was greeted with derision by national bodies, given that the very selection of Qatar as a host has led to them constantly having to field difficult questions on non-football issues.

Southgate’s responded along similar lines at his World Cup squad announcement on Thursday.

“Frankly, I’ll choose if I’m going to speak or not and I’m pretty sure the players will as well,” the England manager said. “So I don’t think we’re necessarily going to be swayed by that communication.

“That said, we’ve also got to focus on the football … but we will speak when asked, we will answer the questions and rightly so.

“I’m really conscious of how much we can affect. I think we’ve made the requests that the FA has been asked to make by the human rights organisations. I think we’ve pushed that and I’m not sure there’s a lot more we can say that’s going to be new on those topics, if I’m frank.

“But we are in a position where we do have some influence and we have tried to use that influence and a number of the players have across some really good causes in the recent past. So we won’t stop doing that but there are moments also where we’ve got to make sure our focus is where it has to be as well.”

Southgate meanwhile denied that the FA investigation into Ivan Toney over historical betting patterns had any influence on his decision to leave the Brentford striker out of his 26-man squad.

The manager said Toney, who was gifted his first call-up for England in September, was always a “long shot” to be on the plane to Qatar. Instead, Newcastle United striker Callum Wilson was handed a place in the squad as back-up striker over Toney and Tammy Abraham.

“September, Callum wasn’t available, he was injured. He, Tammy, Ivan, Ollie Watkins, were probably in the frame. Dominic [Calvert-Lewis] as well. We were tracking him very closely as well. For us, September was a good opportunity to have a look at Ivan on the training pitch, to learn a bit more about him, for him to see how we work. We knew and had discussed with him it was a long shot to be involved at this time in a World Cup. We’ve tracked all the players since.

“We think Callum’s just in that really rich vein of form and has been with us a little bit more, been on the pitch with us, we know him a little bit better. We’ve then got back up for that position with Raheem [Sterling], with Marcus [Rashford]. Should we need to go there. That was the process. The rest, I don’t know so much about. I’ve obviously read over the weekend, but I don’t know the detail. We have continued to pick players in the past when they’ve been on a charge, but I don’t know how that’s going to play out and what the timing of that, or how serious that would be.”

When asked whether the FA would have stopped Toney being picked, Southgate said it didn’t get to that.

“I’ve not had that conversation because he wasn’t in our squad.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in