London: England manager Gareth Southgate said today his players are “desperate” to go to the World Cup in Russia despite soaring political tensions between London and Moscow over the poisoning of an ex-spy.
Britain on Wednesday had said it would expel 23 Russian diplomats and suspended high-level contacts over the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, which it has blamed on Russia.
Prime Minister Theresa May also said earlier this week that no ministers or members of the royal family would attend the showpiece event, which starts in mid-June.
But Southgate said there are no plans for a boycott by the team, although the security of players and staff would be taken into consideration.
“We are desperate to go to a World Cup and that’s really where my remit ends on that matter,” Southgate said as he named his squad for friendlies this month against the Netherlands and Italy.
“We’re preparing to go to the World Cup, there’s no doubt in our mind that’s what we should be doing.
“The only thing at this stage that is of highest importance is the safety and security of our players and absolutely of our travelling supporters.”
Any government interference in the decision-making of national football associations is strictly banned by world football’s governing body FIFA. The FA said only a threat to security would force a rethink on England’s participation.
“A key fundamental in that is safety and security of our participants, players, our employees and of course our supporters and that’s where our primary focus will be,” said Robert Sullivan, the FA’s director of strategy and communications.
“It is not for us to make those broader political judgements.”
Southgate said his side could suffer if England fans decide against travelling to the tournament.
“It’s always a huge boost for us as a team when we’ve got our travelling support with us,” he added.
“We have some of the best fans in the world so, in the end, that’s got to be an individual choice as to which games they attend.