Belfast Telegraph

IFA must act on sectarianism, warns Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín

By Graham Luney

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has led calls for the Irish Football Association to stamp out sectarianism in local football.

Tuesday night's County Antrim Shield semi-final at Windsor Park was marred by sectarian chanting from both the home and away sections of the ground.

Referee Hugh Carvill and his officials took the unprecedented step of requesting an announcement over the PA system appealing for the chanting to stop in the 81st minute of the game.

Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson declined an interview request yesterday, but Ms Ní Chuilín wants the football body to act as well as condemn.

"I have an expectation that the IFA not only comment but provide a way forward in tackling sectarianism in the game," said the Minister.

"We need to step up and challenge this collective, it's the only possible way forward."

Irish FA president Jim Shaw said: "Action can be taken against clubs as this problem has not gone away.

"I have sympathy for clubs but sanctions are an option and may be necessary."

The Sports Minister, who recently said she would not provide £26m funding for the redevelopment of Windsor Park until the IFA had "appropriate governance", is now alarmed at the re-emergence of sectarian chanting at the international venue.

Ní Chuilín, who became the first senior Sinn Fein representative to attend a Northern Ireland match at Windsor Park when she was a guest at the Faroe Islands game in August, 2011, says bigotry and intolerance have no place in football.

The Minister added: "Sectarianism, from whatever quarter, is totally unacceptable.

"It has no place anywhere in our society, and certainly not in sport, which should unite rather than divide. Sectarianism is a manifestation of the worst kind of bigotry and racism.

"It is unacceptable that a minority of supporters engaged in this behaviour on Tuesday night. This culture of sectarianism must be confronted.

"I acknowledge the work of Linfield and Cliftonville football clubs in their communities and on cross-community initiatives, and also that the vast majority of fans are only interested in the enjoyment of sport.

"However, Tuesday night's outrageous behaviour is an indication that we must now all redouble our efforts to promote inclusion, equality and respect."

IFA president Shaw admitted he was disgusted by the chanting at Windsor.

"It goes without saying, this behaviour should not be happening within our football grounds," he said.

"We all want to see this behaviour stamped out but I accept that words mean little. Action must be taken in some form.

"Uefa has imposed a partial stadium closure on CSKA Moscow following the racist behaviour of their fans and the football authorities, including the IFA, need to constantly look at how we can respond to these events.

"There is no easy solution to this, otherwise we would have implemented it already but in these situations clubs tend to take the brunt of the penalty because they are the clubs' supporters."

Belfast Telegraph


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