Voices: The pundits are the real heroes of this World Cup

The England team was going to show its support for LGBT+ rights during this World Cup no matter what. They were willing to take the punishment in order to stand up and be counted. Our brave lads. Our heroes.

Until, that is, Fifa threatened them with yellow cards and then it was in the bin with the One Love armbands – and the team’s moral integrity.

Not to worry, though, because where the players fell short, the TV football pundits stepped up.

The bright spots in this tournament have been the commentators who’ve loudly, proudly criticised Fifa’s decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar, a place notorious for its poor record on human rights.

I know there’ll be those of you who’ll think, like Fifa, that players – and pundits – should stick to football. That there’s no room for politics in sport. Well, with the greatest respect my friends, I think that’s absolute garbage.

Sport is political. Football is political and where we hold world tournaments is definitely political. Players and pundits can’t – and shouldn’t – be apolitical or even pretend to be. Why should they? Silence – as well inaction – is often a form of support and, in this case, the silence and inaction of pundits and players would be an acceptance of Qatar’s offences against human rights and civil freedoms.

Besides, frankly, I’m suspicious of anyone who wants to force them to pipe down. It’s usually code for: “I don’t mind anyone crapping all over other people’s human rights as long as it doesn’t affect me.”

Of course, there’ll be the – now mandatory – cry of “wokery!” and “virtue signalling” whenever a public figure shows their support for a minority group these days. But you see, I love wokery so I didn’t mind one bit when Gary Lineker delivered a half hour critique of Qatar’s record on human rights and civil liberties.

I couldn’t get enough when Roy Keane gave it good style about how the England team should have stuck to their guns and worn the One Love armbands, no matter what sanctions were imposed. I was cheering at the telly when Alex Scott wore her One Love arm banner prominently during the BBC’s coverage of England’s opening win against Iran.

If you think Lineker, Keane and Scott should stay in their lane and keep their traps shut, then I’ve got to ask: why? There have been accusations of hypocrisy. I mean, England’s human rights record is hardly untarnished – and we’ve got to get our own house in order before we start pointing fingers at other nations. Just take recent political rhetoric around immigration for a start.

I get that the media moralising around Qatar could come across as sanctimonious lip service to some, but football is our nation’s favourite sport. The World Cup is watched by millions and the commentators are sportspeople with public profiles and serious influence – it would be a sad indictment of them if they didn’t use their platform to highlight the ethical issues around the tournament.

To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment, sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

During his commentary of ITV’s live coverage of Argentina vs Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Keane spoke for most of the country when he alluded to the deaths of migrant workers during the construction of the tournament stadiums and infrastructure.

“The World Cup shouldn’t be here. It shouldn’t be here,” Keane said. “The corruption, regarding Fifa, you’ve got a country, the way they treat migrant workers, gay people… you can’t treat people like that.”

“I think it’s great that it’s been brought up,” Keane added about the One Love armband debacle. “The bottom line is, we are talking about common decency, how you treat people. Football, the greatest sport in the world, there is so much money involved, there will be corruption but let’s get back to basics, you have to treat people with decency. It should start and finish with that.” Oh yes, Roy Keane is indeed magic.

If the World Cup has to be in Qatar, then I’d rather see some pushback rather than meek silence in the face of the threat of a yellow card. Scott, Keane and Lineker have unleashed the power of punditry and I, for one, am here for it.