Arsene Wenger takes swipe at players’ political statements

Doha: Arsene Wenger praised the Socceroos’ historic World Cup performance before making the surprising, controversial and contradictory suggestion that “political demonstrations” carried out in Qatar caused teams to lose focus and contributed to poor performances.

Wenger, who has been working as FIFA’s head of global football development since late 2019, offered the comments unprompted on Sunday in an apparent swipe at teams like Australia, Germany, Denmark and others who have expressed unease with the host country’s human rights record and treatment of LGBTQ people.

Arsene Wenger says teams may have focused on “political demonstrations” at the expense of World Cup performance.

Arsene Wenger says teams may have focused on “political demonstrations” at the expense of World Cup performance.Credit:Getty

Speaking at a media briefing with FIFA’s technical study group in a review of the World Cup’s group stage, the former Arsenal manager offered a few words of commendation for Graham Arnold’s Socceroos, whose players were revealed to have run a combined 120 kilometres in their three Group D matches – the second most of any of the 32 competing teams, equal with Iran and behind only the United States (123km).

“We can see how Australia has done so well, they kept their shape all of last night with high-value runners,” he said, referring to the gallant 2-1 defeat to Argentina that saw Australia knocked out in the round of 16.

But in response to a later question, on whether the short lead-in period before the World Cup and unique conditions in Qatar had triggered some of the shock results seen in the tournament, Wenger made the bizarre claim that political stances may have brought some nations undone.

“You know when you go to a World Cup, you know you can’t lose the first game. The teams who have the experience to perform in tournaments like France and England played well in the first game,” he said.

“The teams who were mentally ready, with a mindset to focus on competition, and not the political demonstrations.”

Wenger was making a clear reference to Germany and Denmark, two of the pre-tournament favourites who suffered shock early exits and made some of the most visible statements supporting human rights in Qatar.