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David Beckham and Rio Ferdinand among sports stars backing Remain vote

Former England footballer David Beckham has led a team of sports stars to back Remain, with former Manchester United team mate Rio Ferdinand claiming the Leave camp's focus on immigration had been a "real shame".

Former England and British Lions rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio, distance runner Paula Radcliffe, darts star Bobby George and multiple Olympic sailing gold winner Ben Ainslie have also given their backing to Remain.

Ex-Real Madrid player Beckham said he wanted to remain in the EU because "we should be facing the problems of the world together and not alone".

Reflecting on his Manchester United days he said "we were a better and more successful team because of a Danish goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel, the leadership of an Irishman, Roy Keane, and the skill of a Frenchman in Eric Cantona".

"I was also privileged to play and live in Madrid, Milan and Paris with team-mates from all around Europe and the world.

"Those great European cities and their passionate fans welcomed me and my family and gave us the opportunity to enjoy their unique and inspiring cultures and people.

"We live in a vibrant and connected world where together as a people we are strong. For our children and their children, we should be facing the problems of the world together and not alone.

"For these reasons I am voting to Remain."

His decision was attacked by pro-Brexit MP Nadine Dorries, who tweeted: "So, multi millionaire, multi home owning man who can kick a ball supports remain. It's become a division of the classes."

But Harry Potter author JK Rowling mocked her post: "Know your place, successful working class boys. Don't start thinking you can have opinions just because you made it."

Ms Dorries responded by pointing out her Liverpool working class background, but Rowling told her: "Then you should be applauding and enabling social mobility, not sneering when it happens."

Ferdinand, who has spoken out against racism, said "I haven't liked what I've seen" from the Leave campaign.

"I think all the focus on immigration has been a real shame. I don't want Britain to become an angry and mean-spirited country. I think there's a danger that, if Leave wins, it'll be an endorsement of the idea that it's OK to blame all our problems on foreigners."

Ferdinand wrote on his Facebook page that it would be the first time he had exercised his right to vote.

Dallaglio, Radcliffe, George and Ainslie were among dozens of sports stars and administrators who signed a letter urging the UK to vote stay in the EU.

TV cook Delia Smith - the joint majority shareholder at Norwich City FC - was also on the list of signatories, along with Colin Graves, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

The joint letter said: "In sport, the one thing that matters above all else is your team. Whether on the football pitch or running track, in the pool or in the gym, you can achieve so much more by working together. And the same is true for Britain in Europe: we are stronger working together with other countries with the ability to travel, work and play sport right across the continent."

Beckham's decision to publicly back Remain triggered a row between his wife Victoria and Brexit campaigners Leave.EU.

In a Spice Girls interview with The Spectator magazine published in December 1996 she was asked about the prospect of the UK joining the euro.

She reportedly said: "The Euro bureaucrats are destroying every bit of national identity and individuality. Let me give you an example - those new passports are revolting, an insult to our kingdom, our independence. We must keep our national individuality."

Leave.EU posted part of the quote on its Twitter page with the comment "should've listened to the missus, David".

But the pop star turned fashion designer accused Leave.EU of trying to "put a spin on quotes made 20 years ago about keeping or losing the pound".

She posted on her Instagram page: "I have to say strongly my comments were not about this referendum and should not be misused in this way!

"I believe in my country, I believe in a future for my children where we are stronger together and I support the Remain campaign."

England hero John Barnes said he supported Remain, contradicting earlier claims from Leave campaigners Michael Gove and Boris Johnson that he backed Brexit.

The ex-Liverpool footballer said leaving the EU would be better for English footballers as they would face less competition for places from European players, who would find it harder to get permission to play in the Premier League or Football League.

But the former winger stressed that does not mean he thought Brexit was right for the country and said he supported staying in the EU.

He told Sky News: "I was very surprised when I got a text from my son saying that Mr Gove has said that I support the Leave campaign.

"How this happened was I gave an interview stating that for English footballers it would be better off being out of the EU because of course we couldn't get all these European players coming in as easily, so it would be better for English footballers.

"That was then misinterpreted as I am supporting the Leave campaign - I got a phone call the very next day, this is about a month ago, saying 'oh thank you very much for your support'.

"And I made it categorically clear - I said speaking from the point of view of English footballers it would be better off but I don't support the Leave campaign because that's a very selfish view of me just looking at English football, I've got to think about what I think is right for the country.

"So I made it plain that I do not support them, I support Remain, and they said thank you very much we won't be contacting you again."

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