England will take the knee ahead of their first World Cup match against Iran today as the team puts public protests and “inclusivity” at the heart of their campaign.
Gareth Southgate on Sunday night said his players wanted to send a “strong statement to go around the world” at the tournament, which has been overshadowed by Qatar’s human rights record and treatment of LGBT people.
Captain Harry Kane will also wear a rainbow-coloured One Love armband in defiance of Fifa, who warned that the move would breach tournament rules. FA chiefs were urgently inquiring on Sunday night whether the England captain would be punished with an instant yellow card.
Southgate confirmed that England’s players had decided together to take the knee, an anti-racism gesture that has become widespread at sporting fixtures following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We think it’s a strong statement that will go around the world for young people, in particular, to see that inclusivity is very important,” he said.
It came as Rishi Sunak urged the home nations to “do us proud” with an audience of around 11 million expected to watch England’s first game, which kicks off at 1pm British time.
Thousands of England fans began arriving in Doha on Sunday to support the team, who play USA and Wales in their remaining group matches. Many flew in from Dubai and plan to return on shuttle flights rather than stay in Doha, where beer has been banned at World Cup stadia and fan villages have been left half-built.
Supporters have been warned against breaking Qatar’s strict modesty laws by taking off their shirts during matches, with official Fifa guidance stating that “body tattoos and body paint do not constitute clothing.”
Qatar opened the tournament on Sunday night with a glittering opening ceremony featuring camels, giant cartoon mascots and the Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, who delivered an apparently defiant message on behalf of the hosts.
“Instead of seeing another way, we rejected it and insisted on our own way,” Freeman said.
“How can so many countries come together if only one way is accepted? With tolerance and respect, we can live together in one big tent. A Bedouin tent.”
However, the opening ceremony was performed in front of hundreds of empty seats after fans were caught in traffic gridlock outside the £650 million Al Bayt Stadium.
Gianni Infantino, the Fifa chief executive who this weekend accused the West of “hypocrisy” over criticism of Qatar, watched the ceremony beside Mohammed Bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince accused of ordering the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Former England captain David Beckham, who has been criticised for his reported £10 million role as an ambassador for Qatar, was also in attendance alongside the presidents of Egypt, Turkey and Algeria, and the United Nations Secretary-General.
Qatar lost the match 2-0 in front of a purple-clad home crowd dominated by male fans.
- The Telegraph report