Sport, particularly football, has the ability to unite people of all ages as was most vividly demonstrated by the success of the Republic of Ireland team under the management of Jack Charlton who died last Friday. He not only gave the team enormous confidence in themselves but also energised the entire country.
But sadly there is a small minority of fans who still seek to cause hurt and distress to players for a variety of reasons, be it the colour of their skin, their religion or political beliefs. Northern Ireland international player Niall McGinn has bravely spoken out about the abuse he suffered during his career because his mother was related to one of the IRA hunger strikes who died in 1981.
Derogatory songs about the hunger strikers were sung by rival fans, particularly when he played for Celtic and Aberdeen, and abuse was hurled at him when he was warming up along the touchline. Bullets were also sent to him in the post along with threats.
There should be no place for such behaviour either online or at games and the player is right to suggest that social media companies should demand greater identifying information from those using their online services. This would enable them to be brought to book for trolling.
Of course it is not just footballers who suffer at the hands of anonymous trolls. Sinn Fein says Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill has been subjected to a barrage of sectarian and misogynistic abuse recently. First Minister Arlene Foster made similar claims in the past and spoke of its effect on her family.
Recently the Black Lives Matter movement, deploring the past and current treatment of black people in various countries, has won widespread backing and rightly so. But sectarianism and misogyny are equally vile and should equally be deplored.
Football clubs and international associations have made strenuous efforts to stamp out racism and any other abuse of players but a small minority of fans seem impervious to pleas to behave responsibly. If caught online or along the touchine they should be immediately banned from games.
A sport which gives so much joy to people, both those who play and those who watch games, should not be tainted by the actions of those whose motivation is hatred of others. Their targets deserve the utmost support from their team-mates and club at what can be a dark time in their lives.