England will ‘continue to fight’ for inclusivity in football – Leah Williamson

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England captain Leah Williamson has spoken of the squad’s commitment to promoting inclusivity ahead of wearing the ‘OneLove’ armband at this month’s Arnold Clark Cup.

Williamson referred to Czech Republic international Jakub Jankto this week announcing he is gay as she stressed the importance of “standing in solidarity”.

Regarding the anti-discrimination armband, Williamson told a press conference on Wednesday: “We’re never shy in saying what we stand for. We’re a squad that promotes inclusivity, equality, we obviously have a number of people that feel very strongly about it. I think it’s not even a question for us really.

The 'OneLove' armband (Adam Davy/PA).
The anti-discrimination armband features a rainbow in a heart (Adam Davy/PA)

“We’re not just impacting football, we’re trying to have a positive impact on society and that’s one of the ways we can do that.”

She added: “I think the main thing for us is it’s always been a value that we’ve stood by, so the consistency there won’t change, it’s something we believe in, it’s a journey the world is on that isn’t quite where we want it to be yet, so it’s something we’ll continue to fight for.

“And I think Jakub as well, he was a main factor, but as always, I think it (the armband) stands against discrimination of any form. If you stand with that then you want to eradicate that discrimination from the game, and I hope… it’s a positive message to anybody that disagrees that football is a place for everybody.”

England and Wales were among seven European nations that had planned to wear the armbands during matches at the men’s World Cup in Qatar last year before being dissuaded from doing so as the tournament got under way following the threat of sporting sanctions from FIFA.

When asked if the armband was something the Lionesses would continue to discuss looking ahead to this summer’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Williamson said: “You hope it’s not a last-minute call once we get there, but it’s something we want to do all year round, that we’ve done previously.

“And I think the statement that was made at the Euros last summer with every team participating, I think that’s incredible. Every picture we have with a trophy lift there’s a rainbow armband in there.

“I think it’s a great stage and a great time to promote those values that we believe in so much, so I hope it’s the same.”

England captain Harry Kane wearing the 'OneLOve' armband prior to the World Cup in Qatar (Nick Potts/PA).
England captain Harry Kane wearing the armband prior to the World Cup in Qatar (Nick Potts/PA)

Williamson was also asked about recent reports that Saudi Arabia’s tourism authority will be an official sponsor at this summer’s tournament.

New Zealand Football earlier this month said if the reports proved correct it was “shocked and disappointed”, and that it had joined with Football Australia in writing to FIFA to “urgently clarify the situation”.

Williamson said: “I think as players, especially in the women’s game… we make clear statements constantly about the society we want to live in. We’ll always make our opinions heard. But ultimately those things are hopefully resolved in a positive way by FIFA, by Australia and New Zealand. Ultimately the decision’s not in our hands.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman added: “It’s just good that things are being addressed and talked about. People know what we stand for and that’s what they (the players) talk about all the time.”

FIFA declined to comment on the Saudi Arabian issue when contacted by PA.

Defender Williamson, fit again after a foot injury, could make her first England appearance since September when Wiegman’s European champions open their Arnold Clark Cup defence by playing South Korea in Milton Keynes on Thursday. Midfielder Keira Walsh is a doubt due to a stomach bug.

After Thursday’s match, England’s other games in the competition see them take on Italy in Coventry on Sunday, then Belgium in Bristol next Wednesday.

All of the capped players in the current squad were presented with a commemorative cap bearing their ‘legacy’ number at a ceremony at George’s Park on Wednesday.

The legacy numbers represent the order in which the players were capped.

Of the present group, numbers ranged from Jordan Nobbs (180) and Lucy Bronze (181) through to the most recent debutants Jess Park (225), Maya Le Tissier (226) and Katie Robinson (227).

All future players will receive legacy caps when they make their debuts and a celebration event to honour past Lionesses will be held in April.

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