Gareth Southgate has revealed none of his England players have expressed a desire to walk off the pitch to make a “symbolic statement” against racist abuse – and believes doing so would not necessarily cure the problem.
Both Danny Rose and Callum Hudson-Odoi were targeted by Montenegro fans during the Euro 2020 qualifier in Podgorica in March.
Speaking after that game, a clearly-moved Southgate said he needed to reflect on whether he could have handled the situation differently.
As it was, England secured a 5-1 win, with Raheem Sterling celebrating his goal in front of a section of home fans to hit back at the racist abuse of his team-mates.
Southgate said at the time: “You have asked me a question about should I have taken off the team?”
“I want to reflect on whether I should have handled everything differently. The last thing I would want is to feel I have let down the players or missed an opportunity to highlight the subject.”
Speaking for the first time since then and after naming his 27-man squad for the Nations League Finals next month, Southgate had clearly had that time to reflect and believes walking off the pitch is not the definitive answer to tackling racism.
“In terms of walking off the pitch, that isn’t something they (the players) are all on board with,” he said.
“In fact, none of the current team have expressed that as a preference. The bit that isn’t clear if we did that – apart from the question of would we be penalised? – it’s not clear to me what would happen then. It would be a statement, but what would that lead to?
“They’re clear that they don’t want the story at the end to be about them as individuals, they want football to be the story. But they’ve also had an opportunity since then to speak and have an impact.
“In Montenegro in particular from our perspective we only picked it up in the last five minutes of the game, so there’s a difference between that and if things happened earlier in the game. We’ve discussed ways that we can make the players more comfortable or that we can manage if they heard things earlier in the game.
“How would we report those more easily? We’ve encouraged them to speak up when it happens.”
Southgate also questioned how the footballing authorities would respond to such action as a whole team walking off the pitch in the middle of a game.
Asked if he was not tempted to use the powerful statement of a leading international side leaving the field of play, he added: “It is hypothetical at the moment because we are not in that situation but I am back to . . the subject is there.
“Everybody is aware. I don’t think we surely need any more symbolic statements that this is unacceptable.
“It is totally unacceptably but I am still not clear. What change will that enforce? Somehow we have to enforce that change and education on society and I think we must continue to strive to do that.
“But I know there is a wide variation of opinions of people that this is the right thing and people who are less sure. My players’ feeling is the most important thing for me.”
Southgate has been a long-term advocate of using educational tools to battle racism, with a number of incidents across games in England and Scotland over the past season also shining a light on the issue.
“There are lots of statements that have been made and haven’t led to change and reform,” he added. “For me, the broader discussion around racism of education is key. I think a lot of our players and former players have spoken brilliantly about that in recent months.
“The sanctions are going to be debated. There’s obviously a one-match ban which is significant for a country, but there will always be a view that it should be harsher.
“It’s hard to disagree on the one hand, but it’s hard to pitch those sanctions at the right level for one country that might have less revenue and bigger countries that might have more revenue.”