My guest this week has been described as one of the greatest English
soccer strikers of all time. As a player, Gary Lineker
scored 48 goals for England and nearly 250 for English clubs. Since leaving the pitch, he's become the face of football
coverage here in the UK, and is a big vocal
presence on social media. When I sat down with him
ahead of the World Cup, I wanted to ask him about concerns to do with Qatar's human rights record, the likes of David Beckham
doing deals with the state, and why footballers can never win. Gary, thank you so much for being here. Pleasure.
Lovely to have you. Thank you. And it's an interesting
time to talk to you because normally for a World Cup, there'd be a lot of the usual feelings, excitement, trepidation. This feels quite different because of the controversy
around where it is. Believe you me, this is the
same before every World Cup. There are different levels of
it, and this is high level, but you can go back to 1934 if you want, when the World Cup was in Italy.
It was used as a vehicle to
promote fascism for Mussolini. So, this is not new. Brazil in 2014, there
were riots on the streets by people in Brazil saying they shouldn't spend all
this money on the stadiums, they should spend it on social care. We had Russia who invaded Crimea just a few years before
they hosted the World Cup. So, it is not something
we're unaccustomed to. Do you think it's on a
different scale though? Because some of the reports, of course, about the number of
lives that have been lost in the building of the
stadium and the preparations? I think what makes this different is not just in terms of human rights and obviously workers' rights
and what happened to them.
And lots of lives were lost
in the building of stadium. I think what is really
different about this one is that we know when the bid
was proved to be successful that it was corrupt. So I think that's what perhaps
separates this from the rest. Human rights wise, well there's a few countries
that have hosted it that would fail some tests on that.
Yeah, well let's go to that in a minute. But on the FIFA point, because the former FIFA
president, Sepp Blatter, has now said it was a mistake. He waited a long time
to do that, hasn't he? Yeah, I mean, not in the clearest- I could have told him that the minute he opened the
thing and it said Qatar on it. I mean, do you think there's any value in that statement at this point, or is it just pointless to hear it? I just don't understand
why he would do that now.
I dunno whether that
helps or hinders or what. I mean he's the ex president of FIFA at a time where there was
a lot of dodgy goings on. So, yes, it was a mistake, but it was more than a
mistake, wasn't it really? Well, I mean also FIFA just
having put out this email, let's not focus on the politics, let's focus on the football. Do you think FIFA has learned as a body about what's the important focus? I do believe that the current… Maybe I'm being naive, but I do believe the current
people in charge of FIFA and it includes Arsène Wenger,
he's in a really high role.
I have certain amount of faith and trust that Arsène Wenger is a decent, upstanding, non-corrupt person. I don't think the levels of
corruption, if there are any, there will be in certain branches of FIFA 'cause it's global, but
in terms of the very top, I think it's much more transparent. The voting system is much more transparent and there's less corruption. Do they still make mistakes? Yes, they do, in terms
of things that they say. The thing you just mentioned
was very tone deaf to say that because there's no question that this is kind of sports washing, but the reason sports washing works is when you are told to shut
up about everything else and just say, well just
stick to the football.
So I think that was an error and I think it was a tone deaf statement. And I think it's something
that most of the federations will probably argue against. Some of the players we've heard
might be wearing arm bands in support of LGBTQ players
and people around the world. Do you think we should hear more from the players themselves? Well, I think it's really
interesting, isn't it? Because the minute players stand up and voice their concerns, everyone tells them, "Stay outta politics. Stick to football." Yeah. When they don't stand
up and say something, people say, "Why aren't
you saying anything?" So there's an element of the footballers that can't win on this. They're inextricably linked,
politics and sport, all sport. There's no getting away from that fact. Politicians will use
football when it suits them. So if England start doing well and say they get to the
quarter finals or semifinal, we'll all have our politicians standing up and they'll be putting England jerseys on and pretending to be really interested.
Now, some of them are
interested in football. A lot of them aren't. But even the ones that aren't will suddenly be wanting to be seen and jump on this England
bandwagon of success. But the minute footballers
voice themselves or come out and talk about social issues, take Marcus Rashford for example, take the captains during Covid, all of a sudden it's like,
whoa, hang on a minute. You're getting a bit
above your station here.
So footballers are allowed to speak when it suits the
politicians, I always feel. It's always been a little bit
of a kind of pet hate of mine. Of course though, the people they answer to
are their fans, as well. So yes, the politicians
make the statements and get the air time in response, but I suppose it's just also, it's been striking how
some of the female players have spoken out, female
football players, about it. I was looking at the comments from England's Lotte Wubben-Moy who said she's not going to watch it.
Beth Mead, of course, is a
hugely successful striker. She's done so well in the game. She's just winning all these
accolades. She's gay herself. She's said, "It's just so disappointing." But it's quite a big thing to
say you're not gonna watch it when you play football for a living. Yeah, yeah. But I mean, people make
their own decisions on what they have to do. I just wondered, do you
think they're being bolder 'cause they're not involved or- Of course they are, yeah. I mean, it's very easy to say these things if you're not gonna play in it. It's a different thing. Do you think footballers get
scared about speaking out or get nervous? I think some will, some won't.
Some are brave, some have stand out. I've been really proud of footballers over the last few years. I think they've really
come out on social issues. I've mentioned Rashford before. The captains during the thing. We've seen people like Raheem Sterling speak out brilliantly on
racism and things like that. So I've been really proud of the fact and a lot of them do
and a lot of them will. Others are less comfortable and for me, it's purely a personal issue. You know, if somebody
wants to take a stand in a certain way, that's fine. And if somebody just wants
to concentrate on their game and possibly their only
opportunity to play in a World Cup and they just wanna get on
with the football side of it and not let these things
creep in, that's fine too. You've talked a bit about, because just to say very clearly, homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.
There are also other issues that are very different
culturally for the fans, perhaps we'll come on to, but you've also talked
about it would be a moment, not to put pressure, but it
would be a bit of a moment if a footballer came out as gay- Well, it could-
During this time. I did say that, but I didn't
say a footballer should. No, no, no, which is why I was making that-
The context is important. So, I was saying it would be, you know, a big kind of middle finger
to perhaps that thing. And it won't happen. I wouldn't put pressure on any player ever to do that anyway. But of course, it's an issue, the human rights side of things. It has to be. The Qatar World Cup ambassador has just called homosexuality
damage in the mind. I saw that. Which is an insight into the view, the reason for the view.
If you were gay, as a fan,
would you go to this tournament? It's a great question. I don't know because it's
a hypothetical question. You would have to give it
a lot of thought, I think. You know, I saw one of
their main representatives, I think it was Al Thani,
speaking in an interview saying that, you know, gay
people will be welcome. The question was asked, "What about if they walked
down the street holding hands?" He said, "That would be absolutely fine." But let's see. But there's a risk though.
But there's a risk. But I understand why people… If the LGBTQ, et cetera,
would have reservations and thoughts and concerns. Absolutely. Whether I, you could say,
whether I would go if I were gay, I honestly don't know. I don't know. I mean you obviously you
are going to work to- I'm going to work, yeah. Yeah. How you feeling about that with this- No, I'm fine but I don't have the slightest
problem about going to work. I'm not going there to support
the World Cup being in Qatar.
I'm going there to report it. Yeah, it's a common sense. For me, that's my job as a kind of sports
broadcaster, journalist. You know, journalists
will be sent to the war with Russia and Ukraine. But it doesn't mean, say,
they support what's going on. No, no, no, and I didn't mean that, but I meant more like if
there was any nervousness, you know, just things like
Qatar's UK ambassadors warned against public
displays of affection. I'm not saying you're gonna to be doing any affection with your colleagues. Chance should be a fine thing. Happily single man, I understand. But also, for the fans, I wonder if you've got a
nervousness about that, not just on the human rights side, but the zero tolerance for drinking in public and being drunk.
I know. Well, I always have concerns about English fans traveling abroad because I'm afraid a
small percentage of them do go there looking for trouble, looking to just get drunk,
looking for a fight. And that's been part of something, it's been detestable around
the England squad for years and they ruin it for everyone else. What will happen to them in Qatar, I don't know if they go along that things, but I think we've all got- Well, I think all football fans obviously in their ranks have the
drinking side of things. Yeah, the drink, well yes. It's a nervousness perhaps
around the whole thing as well. Yeah, I'm sure. I'm sure. I mean, I think we'll all
be thinking ourselves, how do we get a drink at some point.
There might be that, as well. Many footballers, as
yourself, become pundits, ambassadors, journalists, commentators. There has also been
criticism of, for instance, David Beckham becoming a
paid ambassador to Qatar, headed to the World Cup. He's got to promote tourism
and culture in Qatar. He's become the face of it. What do you make of that sort of decision? Well that's, again, it's
a personal decision.
I'm not gonna sit here and be judgemental. Would I do it? No. Eric Cantona, who
obviously played with him, has spoken out and urged
him to think differently. Yeah, and I understand why he's done that. And as I said, would I have done it? No. He's decided to go down that route. I would say about David, he's never really voiced his concerns about where the World Cup is. So, you know, it's not something
he's ever got involved in. So, can you accuse him,
but he's not hypocritical. If I'd have done it, I was
very, very anti the bid when it was first revealed in 2010. I was in the room. I couldn't believe it. It seemed to me that it
must have been corrupt because they were talking about staging a summer World Cup in Qatar where temperatures are in the 40s, sometimes even approaching
50 degrees centigrade. It seemed unfathomable. Then, obviously, laterally
it was moved to winter and I was very vocal against it.