'Let's focus on the football!' - FIFA bosses tell World Cup teams not to lecture on morality

FIFA's leadership has written to World Cup teams urging them to focus on the tournament in Qatar and not be part of lecturing on morality and dragging football "into every ideological or political battle that exists".

Sky News has exclusively seen the full letter from FIFA's president Gianni Infantino, and the governing body's secretary general Fatma Samoura, that has been sent amid growing pressure on players to be activists around the tournament.

It has been a World Cup build-up dogged by concerns about the suffering of low-paid migrant workers to build the infrastructure in the tiny Gulf nation and discriminatory laws that criminalise same-sex relations.

"Please, let's now focus on the football!" Infantino and Samoura wrote to the 32 football nations contesting the World Cup, including England and Wales.

"We know football does not live in a vacuum and we are equally aware that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature all around the world.

"But please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists."

The letter comes in the wake of - but does not directly address - calls to FIFA from Ukraine for Iran to be banned from the tournament for supplying weapons to aid Russia's attacks on Ukraine.

The group stage, which begins in less than three weeks, sees Iran play England, Wales and the United States.

The politically charged nature of this first Middle East World Cup intensified when Russia - hosts in 2018 - were banned by FIFA for launching the fuller invasion of Ukraine in February.

The letter does not reference the request by England and Wales and six other European nations for their captains to wear "One Love" multicoloured armbands at the World Cup, which are a response to concerns about Qatar's anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

Both British nations have already said they would defy any ban by FIFA, which used the letter to caution against activism.

Infantino wrote: "At FIFA, we try to respect all opinions and beliefs, without handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world.

"One of the great strengths of the world is indeed its very diversity, and if inclusion means anything, it means having respect for that diversity. No one people or culture or nation is 'better' than any other.

"This principle is the very foundation stone of mutual respect and non-discrimination. And this is also one of the core values of football. So, please let's all remember that and let football take centre stage."

Infantino and Samoura said everyone will be welcome in Qatar "regardless of origin, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality".

Qatar World Cup CEO Nasser Al Khater told Sky News last month that gay fans would be welcome, while saying the culture meant anti-LGBTQ laws had to remain in place despite deterring some fans from travelling.

The FIFA letter was sent to the nations competing in the men's football showpiece as they finalise squads and plans for the tournament, which opens on 20 November.

"Let's take that opportunity and unite the world through the universal language of football," the FIFA chiefs wrote.

Infantino - and his leadership team - was not in place at FIFA when a tainted group of executive committee members voted in 2010 to award the World Cup to Qatar.

The tournament is leaving a legacy with more stringent regulations on working conditions, the introduction of a minimum wage and efforts to dismantle the Kafala system that ties workers to their employers.

But the English and Welsh Football Associations have highlighted concerns about labour abuses by calling for compensation for families of those who died building the wider infrastructure the tiny Gulf nation has required to cope with an influx of teams and fans for a month of matches.

The last English team to play in Qatar was Liverpool at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2019. And Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp told Sky News this week it is "not fair" to expect political statements from players around the World Cup.

The German said: "They go there to play football. It's not about this generation's players to say now that 'we don't go, or we don't do that'.

"The decision [to hold the tournament in Qatar] was made by other people, and if you want to criticise anybody, criticise the people who made the decision."