Grotesque abuse hurled at Cyrus Christie online came to the fore this week, the latest example of how football, and sport in general, continues to battle the scourge of racism.
In the case of Ireland’s right-back, his verbal assault stemmed from a troll based outside of these shores but the evidence is there to indicate society hasn’t fully warmed to the diversity brought about by the intercultural hue of the population over the past decade.
Both the expansion of the European Union and the influx of asylum seekers from Africa has filtered into football, to such an extent that Ireland’s underage squads are sprinkled with players either born overseas or brought up in a family that immigrated to Ireland.
Within the recent bunch of youth internationals, Ireland were represented by players born in Romania, Poland, Spain, the UK, and several
Recent history has proved players of certain skin colour aren’t always embraced on the international circuit.
During an U17 Uefa qualifier against Albania in 2010, Irish players Philip Roberts and Bradley Garmston were both targeted by opposition players and fans, with the sound of monkey chants audible inside the stadium. When the referee failed to intervene, as often occurs, a seething Roberts had to be withdrawn at half-time.
The FAI subsequently lodged a complaint to Uefa.
Three years later, and then U19 Ireland boss Paul Doolin expressed his concern at the safety of his players heading to Serbia for their elite qualification matches.
The Serbs had been handed a paltry fine for allowing their U21 qualifier against England descend into chaos arising from abuse aimed at Danny Rose and Tom Ince.
Not that the problem doesn’t raise its head in domestic football.
Troubling cases have surfaced in the League of Ireland which were dealt with by the FAI, and they’re only the ones that came to public attention.
Jason McGuinness, an experienced title-winning defender, was punished with a five-match band for racially abusing Romuald Boco during a game between Bohemians and Sligo Rovers.
Last season, during a First Division game between Wexford Youths and Athlone Town, Mark Slater, the Wexford midfielder, “apologised sincerely” for dishing out insults to an opponent but still sat out the mandatory five-match ban under the FAI’s regulations.
Their Rule 96 vows to stamp out discrimination on account of race, skin colour, language, religion, ethnic and/or national origin or sexual orientation.
That rule also applies to the women’s national league, which has not been a racism-free zone either.
Only two years ago, a prominent Ireland international was hit with a 10-game ban. The sanction was imposed on foot of a complaint that she used derogatory and racial comments during an exchange with the opposing team manager.
In light of the episode surrounding Christie, UCD defender Rebekah Carroll was swift to remind people about how close to home the bugbear is.
“This is by no means new,” said the former Ireland U19 international, whose brother Jake is currently playing for League Two club Cambridge United. “Racism is still present in men’s AND women’s football.”
Des Tomlinson, the FAI’s sports programme national coordinator, while insisting the governing body will continue to throw the book at perpetrators, admits the rise in social media is a minefield.
“The concerning part of the statement from Cyrus was that this wasn’t a one-off,” he noted. “Most people celebrate diversity but certain others have different values and can express them from a keyboard.”
Meanwhile, Ray Houghton became the latest ex-Ireland player to lend support to Christie. “One of the great things about playing for Ireland is that it was never about the colour of your skin, it was always about pride in the shirt and giving 100%,” Houghton told RTÉ Sport.
“With social media, we’ve opened up a can of worms. Anyone can go on there and write what they want.”
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