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LEICESTER, United Kingdom – An Irish professional soccer player is calling for action from the sport’s governing authority in England after he received racist and anti-Catholic abuse during a match in Sunderland.
James McClean plays for Wigan Athletic in the Championship, the second-tier soccer league in England, a division below the Premier League.
In Saturday’s match against Sunderland, for whom McClean played from 2011–2013, people in the crown chanted anti-Irish and anti-Catholic slogans, including “f—k the Pope.”
He drew the ire of Sunderland fans when he played for them by refusing to wear the traditional poppy on Remembrance Day, honoring British troops. It is common for Irish players to refrain from the practice.
In an Instagram post over the weekend, McClean posted a video of the chanting, he said the Football Association (FA), the sport’s governing body, was doing nothing to tackle the abuse.
“Considering every single year we have an FA representative come into each club to discuss the same old crap they spew to us about discrimination, every single year i challenge them on the abuse, every single year they do nothing,” the soccer player wrote.
In his post, he noted his seven-year-old son watches every game, and has to ask his mother, “Why are they booing and singing that song at Daddy?”
The chants included anti-Irish Republican Army chants (commonly aimed at Irish players), and strong profanity.
McClean also pointed out that this happened during the same game that Sunderland held a tribute honoring Irish player Niall Quinn, “who is also the same nationality as myself … couldn’t make the stupidity up.”
He added that “everyone who attended the game would have heard this loud and clear including the referee, match officials and other officials! I should not have to report every single incident when clearly they can all hear what I hear and they should be doing their job by taking action!”
He also said he “would be lying” if he thought anything would be done about the abuse by the FA, English Football League, or Sunderland, “giving they did nothing when I was there player.”
Wigan’s chairman Talal Al Hammad said the club is “doing everything in our power to stop this from happening, however more importantly as mature adults, this should not be happening.”
“Your behavior is watched by those younger than you, children, teenagers; the younger generation and is a disgraceful demonstration of how one should behave. So much emphasis and effort is put into the younger generation and the prevention in bullying. How can we teach kids to not bully other children as school when adults are doing it themselves?” Al Hammad said.
“Hurting a human emotionally is as equal as hurting them physically; how come physical abuse has consequences but this doesn’t? More times than not, action is only taken when it’s too late, when a person has been hurt either by other ‘adults’ or by themselves after enduring emotional and mental abuse. It is shameful and disgusting and needs to stop,” concluded the Wigan chairman.
In a statement, the Sunderland AFC said the team “has a zero-tolerance policy against all forms of discrimination.”
“The club is committed to providing an inclusive, family-friendly environment at the Stadium of Light and strongly condemns any supporter found to be engaging in any form of discriminatory behavior,” the statement said.
“Whilst the majority of fans behave impeccably when supporting SAFC, there have been multiple incidents during the 2022-23 season that are unacceptable and have resulted in ejection, stadium bans and criminal investigations. Everyone attending, working or taking part in a football match at the Stadium of Light has the right to feel safe, valued and included and the club encourages all supporters to continue to play their part,” it continued.
Meanwhile, the English Football League issued a statement saying it “condemns all forms of discriminatory and offensive chanting and will provide assistance wherever appropriate in respect of any investigations undertaken by the club, FA and other authorities.”
“The league has worked with other football bodies in the past and will continue to do so in the future to provide support for James. At the beginning of the season the EFL issued guidance to clubs to support their match day operations to tackle discriminatory behavior and hate crime,” the EFL said.
British soccer has long been plagued by racist, homophobic, and sectarian chanting. Irish players are often subjected to anti-Catholic abuse.
According to Kick It Out, which campaigns to end discrimination in soccer, there were 70 instances of sectarian abuse reported in professional soccer in England last season, making up 18.42 percent of all discriminatory abuse reported.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome