The racist chanting from Bulgarian fans directed at some England soccer players at the recent European championship qualifier match in Sofia was roundly criticised by the English FA and by Fifa, the world governing body of football.
In response to this racist abuse, Fifa threatened to initiate sanctions that could put Bulgaria’s World Cup qualifying chances in jeopardy. Strict measures to deal with racist transgressors would no doubt be welcomed internationally and Fifa must follow through on displaying a zero-tolerance to racist and sectarian abusers.
This intolerance of racism and sectarianism in sport should be displayed by the English FA to Republic of Ireland and Stoke City footballer James McClean. McClean has branded the English FA “hypocrites and cowards” over their abysmal response to the bitter sectarian invective he has been subjected to for years from football terraces throughout Britain over his decision not to wear a poppy.
This refusal to respect one’s right to not wear a poppy is anathema to what millions fought and died for in two world wars. We are consistently reminded that the poppy symbolises the sacrifice of millions of lives in defence of small nations and individual freedoms.
Surely that freedom includes the right to not wear a poppy. McClean has on numerous occasions articulated respect and gratitude for those who fought and died in both World Wars and “mourns their deaths like every other decent person”.
However, as McClean pointed out,for people from the North of Ireland, and specifically those from Derry, scene of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, wearing the poppy isnot just a simple non-controversial symbol to remember those who died in the Great War.
This reader's opinion was first published in the print edition of the Irish Examiner on 18 October 2019