The Football Association is focused on producing a positive legacy for migrant workers at the World Cup, its chair, Debbie Hewitt, has said, with discussions on possible solutions coming within days.
Calls for the England team and its governing body to endorse a legacy project have been growing in recent weeks, with NGOs and the international players’ union, Fifpro, calling for support on two central ideas – financial remedy for workers and their families and the creation of a permanent workers centre in Qatar.
“The context of Qatar is not straightforward for many and varied reasons,” said Hewitt, who took over as FA chair at the beginning of this year. “I’ve been to Qatar three times and I would say that if there’s a positive to come from a World Cup then it is the opportunity to give migrant workers their voice and that’s the way they see it, having sat down and spoken with them.
“That responsibility comes back to a legacy and there’s a lot of talk before the [tournament] on where we can unite with other federations. I do think that’s important – where it’s united we will stand – to leave a legacy behind that shines a light on the issues, put in place some solutions, and that can overall be a positive thing.”
The FA’s chief executive, Mark Bullingham, is to meet representatives of other qualified World Cup countries next week to discuss the legacy issue and the possibility of players relaying a symbolic message during the tournament. The Guardian understands that discussions on the financial remedy and the workers’ centre will be part of the agenda. “We would hope to be able to give an update after we’ve spoken to the players in the wake of that workshop,” Bullingham said.
Hewitt also endorsed Gareth Southgate, who will lead England at the World Cup. The England manager was booed and mocked by supporters after the 4-0 home defeat to Hungary last week and while Hewitt acknowledges the team have experienced “a stumble”, she praised Southgate’s qualities as a leader and defended the decision to extend his contract last year.
“He is the most successful England manager we’ve had for 55 years,” she said. “He’s taken us to a World Cup semi-final and a Euros final. But the bit people don’t see as much is the Gareth at camp and the culture he’s created. Certainly, prior to Gareth being the manager of England there was not the pride of wearing the England shirt. There were the club rivalries we’d read about. The players not getting on. He’s changed that beyond recognition and I’ve seen that first-hand.
“I don’t just work in football, I work in business and I’ve worked with a lot of chief executives and Gareth’s skills – his high IQ and high EQ [emotional intelligence] – would make him a chief exec in any sphere. That resilience and accountability are the two qualities I admire most about him. He takes [responsibility], he doesn’t huff, he’s resilient and that’s what you want in an England manager.”
Hewitt confirmed she spoke to Southgate after the Hungary match and he responded by accepting he had things to learn from the loss. “His openness to learn is quite remarkable and quite unusual in any sphere,” she said, adding that the contract extension, which runs until December 2024, was a “red herring, because I don’t think we would be discussing it had we not had the recent series of games. Clearly we did that with proper discussion and thought.
“That there’s been a stumble does not make us automatically say ‘should we have given him a contract?’ We have confidence in Gareth for all the reasons I described and that’s the important thing. And it’s particularly important going into the biggest tournament.”