England’s World Cup squad have landed in Qatar on a Gay Pride jet — to show a red card to host nation intolerance.
Boss Gareth Southgate and skipper Harry Kane led the 26-strong squad on board “Rain Bow”, a Virgin Atlantic A350 Airbus.
It features a motif of Oscar — the airline’s LGBTQ+ Union Jack-trailing flying icon — beneath the cabin.
The gesture was proposed by FA chiefs keen to register concern about gay rights in the strict Muslim state where homosexuality can still carry the death penalty.
Southgate has vowed to make a stand.
He said: “We’re very strong on inclusivity. We understand the challenges that this tournament brings . . . the human rights challenges.”
It was “highly unlikely”, he said, that he would follow Fifa’s guidance to focus solely on football during the Cup.
“We’ve always spoken about issues we think should be talked about, particularly ones we feel we can affect.”
Kane has already shown support for the LGBTQ+ community by wearing a rainbow armband while playing for his club, Spurs.
Fifa, which awarded the World Cup to Qatar, despite its human rights record, may try to ban future “political” gestures by teams.
More are expected, however, and the USA rainbow colours into their team badge at their Qatar training base.
‘IT’S TOO LATE’: FOOTBALL STARS ADMIT QATAR CAN’T BE FIXED
France captain Hugo Lloris has launched an impassioned plea in defence of World Cup stars who have “too much pressure” placed upon them to criticise the tournament hosts, as Australia struggles to escape the brave stance it took against Qatar’s human rights record.
The Socceroos have yet to field a full training session – with coach Graham Arnold’s European-based players arriving later on Monday – forcing all-time great, and now Qatar Legacy Ambassador, Tim Cahill to make up the numbers during a session on Sunday.
But it is the three-minute video released by the Socceroos last month which continues to make headlines as the world’s players and media descend on Qatar ahead of the tournament opener on Sunday.
Striker Mitchell Duke was asked about the stance with the opening question of his press conference on Monday, and refused to delve any deeper into Australia’s position on what would constitute a success when it came to shining a light on the rights of migrant workers and same-sex relationship laws in Qatar.
“To be honest we timed things well with what we said – we’ve done that purposefully before we all came into camp because our main priority now once we’ve turned up is focusing on the football side of things,” Duke said.
“What we said in that video is covered, it should be heard and now we are just focused on the football to be honest. That’s what we’ve spoken about now.
“We’ve got a certain job to handle here at the World Cup, to represent Australia and do our job.
“That’s basically our priority to be honest. Everything’s been said in the video.”
Duke’s comments came as the captain of Australia’s first opponent became the latest star to defend players in the ongoing debate over the various controversies plaguing the host nation – suggesting it was politicians who should be fielding such queries.
Lloris will wear a rainbow-coloured ‘One Love’ armband at the tournament, one of nine European captains to pledge to do so. But he believes it is right to fall in line with FIFA’s statement last week that all nations must now “focus on the football” – an edict the Socceroos are adhering to.
“There’s too much pressure on the players. We are at the bottom of the chain,” Lloris said.
“If you have to apply pressure, first of all it had to be 10 years ago. Now it’s too late.
“You have to understand that for players this opportunity happens every four years and you want every chance to succeed.
“The focus has to be on the field. The rest is for politicians. We are athletes.”
Lloris and Duke could come face-to-face on the field next week, with the Australian promising to bring the physicality if he earns a spot in Arnold’s starting XI.
Arnold has made a point of wanting to pick 11 ‘boxing kangaroos’ with a win-at-all-costs mentality – something the workaholic Duke embodies to a tee.
“That’s definitely been one of the main topics is our physicality, running them into the ground and not backing down,” Duke said.
“I’m a true blue Aussie and I feel like that Aussie mentality is that ‘not-back-down’ mentality. I feel like we can beat anyone on our day (and to) not to be scared.”
Originally published as World Cup: England squad fly into Qatar on Rain Bow jet to take a stand on LGBTIQ+ intolerance