LEICESTER, United Kingdom – There are growing calls for soccer officials in England and Scotland to tackle the issue of anti-Irish bias, after a player and manager say they suffered abuse.
The groups Show Racism the Red Card Ireland, Show Racism the Red Card UK, and the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland issued a joint statement calling on the Football Association in England and the Scottish Football Association “to have a more robust approach” to anti-Irish abuse.
Show Racism the Red Card was established in 1996 to fight racism in the sport, which had been commonplace at the time. In soccer, if a red card is shown to a player, he must leave the game, and cannot be replaced.
James McClean, who plays for Stoke in the second-tier English Football League Championship, said he suffered “sectarian abuse” from fans because he refuses to wear a poppy for Remembrance Day, which takes place Nov. 11.
The day marks the anniversary of the armistice which ended World War I, and the Royal British Legion sponsors an annual Poppy Appeal to support veterans. The use of the red poppy in November is ever-present in Britain, and sports teams usually wear the poppy during games around the day.
Due to Ireland’s independence struggle against Britain during the World War I period, Irish people often refuse to wear the poppy.
Since Irish identity and the Catholic faith are often intermingled in Britain, anti-Irish abuse usually takes on an ant-Catholic hue.
“If it was a person’s skin color or if it was anti-Muslim, someone’s gender, there would be an uproar and it would be taken in a completely different way and dealt with in a different manner,” McClean said. The footballer is from Derry, in Northern Ireland, but plays for the Republic of Ireland national team.
After the soccer player called those shouting abuse at him “uneducated cavemen” on social media, the Football Association announced it was investigating McClean for using an “offensive word” about fans.
The joint statement from the football anti-racism groups and the Irish soccer players’ association said they “stand in solidarity” with the player.
“Racism on the basis of color, nationality, religion or ethnicity is not acceptable and all within the game have a responsibility to respond appropriately,” the statement said.
The statement also referred to the case of manager Neil Lennon, who leads Hibernian in the Scottish league.
Lennon was hit with a coin thrown at him during a game against Hearts. Both teams are based in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh.
The Irish-born manager said the attack was because he was an Irish Catholic.
“First time I stepped on to Windsor Park at Celtic I was booed when I touched the ball,” he said, according to STV News.
The Glasgow-based Celtic is considered the “Catholic” team in Scotland, while its arch-rival Rangers is the Protestant team.
“There is no question in my mind that was the reasoning behind it. You call it sectarianism in Scotland – I call it racism,” Lennon said.
“If a black man is abused, you’re not just abusing the color of the skin, you’re abusing his culture, heritage and background. It’s the exact same when I get called a Fenian, a pauper, a beggar, a tarrier and all I do is stand up for myself,” he continued. “I’ve been subjected to this for 18 years. I’m 47 and I’m fed up with it.”
McClean said the abuse he and Lennon suffer is ignored by soccer’s governing bodies in both England and Scotland.
“Because we are Irish Catholics, they turn a blind eye and nothing is ever said and done,” he said.
Show Racism the Red Card Ireland called on England and Scotland’s soccer governing bodies to investigate all incidents of anti-Irish discrimination.
“We also call on both associations to invest funding in anti-racism education to help both supporters and young people understand the dangers and the impact of racism,” they said.