The annual media bullying campaign known as ‘poppy fascism’ has been blamed for an outbreak of anti-Irish racism in the world of sport.
Stoke City soccer star James McClean has said he has been discriminated against and threatened because he is an Irish Catholic who refuses to wear the symbol of Britain’s military remembrance.
Right-wing British media annually pressurise public figures and television into wearing the symbol, regardless of personal beliefs, during the weeks around Remembrance Day on November 11.
McClean was brought up on the Creggan estate in Derry, the home of six of the people killed on ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1972. British soldiers who carried out war crimes in their Irish ‘theatre of operations’ are among those honoured by the wearing of the poppy.
The annual furore over Mr McClean’s failure to wear the symbol was as intense as ever, and there were ugly scenes at a match between Stoke City and Middlesborough earlier this week when right-wing fans hurled abuse and made threats at the Derry man.
His wife, Erin has also been subjected to threats and online abuse, including a threat to “tattoo a poppy on her face”. It was also revealed that “abusive packages” were sent to the footballer at the club’s training ground.
“If it was a person’s skin colour or if it was anti-Muslim, someone’s gender, there would be an uproar and it would be taken in a completely different way and dealt with in a different manner,” said the Derry man.
Mr McClean also compared his treatment to that meted out to Hibernians boss Neil Lennon, from Lurgan, County Armagh, who was the subject of threats in Scotland last week.
“Because we are Irish Catholics, they turn a blind eye and nothing is ever said and done,” he said.
Neil Lennon has reiterated his belief that players and managers are targeted for abuse if they are Irish Catholic.
“You call it sectarianism here in Scotland, I call it racism. If a black man is abused, you are not just abusing the colour of his skin, you are abusing his culture, his heritage, his background.
“It’s the exact same when I get called a Fenian, a pauper, a beggar, a tarrier. These people with the sense of entitlement or superiority complex. And all I do is stand up for myself.”
The Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland has now called on its British counterparts to investigate all incidents of anti-Irish discrimination.
The organisation said: “Racism on the basis of colour, nationality, religion or ethnicity is not acceptable and all within the game have a responsibility to respond appropriately.
“James McClean has stood in solidarity with team mates who have experienced racism and spoken out. We stand in solidarity with James McClean, Neil Lennon and all those who experience racism.”
Mr McClean made clear the hate campaigns wouldn’t work. In an online riposte to his abusers, he quoted Bobby Sands: “They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn’t want to be broken.”