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England won't walk off pitch at racist abuse - Southgate

LONDON -- Gareth Southgate has said England's players have decided against walking off the pitch in protest if they are subjected to racist abuse during a match in the future.

England's 5-1 victory over Montenegro in March was overshadowed by several players, including Raheem Sterling, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Danny Rose, being targeted with loud monkey chants from the stands.

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UEFA subsequently ordered Montenegro to play their next home match behind closed doors as punishment for the offence, along with a fine of €20,000 (£17,253).

Southgate said he accepts there is debate about whether existing sanctions for racist abuse are severe enough, but that his players do not consider walking off in future to be the answer.

"In Montenegro in particular from our perspective we only picked it up in the last five minutes of the game, so there's a difference between that and if things happened earlier in the game," Southgate said. "We've discussed ways that we can make the players more comfortable or how we can manage it if they heard things earlier.

"How would we report those more easily? We've encouraged them to speak up when it happens. They're clear that they don't want the story at the end to be about them as individuals, they want football to be the story.

"But they've also had an opportunity since then to speak and have an impact. In terms of walking off the pitch, that isn't something they're all on board with -- in fact, none of the current team have expressed that as a preference.

"The bit that isn't clear if we did that -- apart from the question of whether we would we be penalised -- it's not clear to me what would happen then. It would be a statement, but what would that lead to?

"There are lots of statements that have been made and haven't led to change and reform. For me, the broader discussion around racism of education is key. I think a lot of our players and former players have spoken brilliantly about that in recent months.

"The sanctions are going to be debated. There's obviously a one-match ban which is significant for a country, but there will always be a view that it should be harsher. It's hard to disagree on the one hand, but it's hard to pitch those sanctions at the right level for one country that might have less revenue and bigger countries that might have more revenue.

"I think the sanctions and everything else are for other people to work towards. My priority is do my players feel supported from within their dressing room by their own federation? I believe that to be the case.

"Can we then affect things on a broader scale? I think we've tried to do that with the players and the staff. I think the chairman put that at the top of his agenda with his speech to UEFA, and we're trying to make changes in the right areas and we've got to follow the right procedures to try and do that."

The debate around walking off the pitch in response to racist abuse intensified last month, when the manager of non-league Wythenshawe Town was fined and suspended after instructing his players to leave the field due to an alleged racist incident involving a match official.

Sterling, the newly-crowned FWA Footballer of the Year, has urged those who encounter racist abuse not to walk off, and Southgate said he will continue to be guided on the issue by the views of his players.

"The subject is there," he added. "Everybody is aware.

"I don't think we surely need any more symbolic statements that this is unacceptable. It is totally unacceptable but I am still not clear. What change will that enforce?

"Somehow we have to enforce that change and education on society and I think we must continue to strive to do that, but I know there is a wide variation of opinions of people who think this is the right thing and people who are less sure.

"My players' feeling is the most important thing for me."

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