Churches show sectarianism the Red Card

By staff writers
March 12, 2007

Scotland's religious leaders yesterday made an unusual addition to the stands at a football match between Celtic and Rangers.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien and the Church of Scotland moderator, the Right Rev Alan McDonald, were among those watching the game. The visit allowed them to see first hand the efforts being made to banish sectarianism from football.

Football in Glasgow has for many years been divided between the mainly Protestant club Rangers and the mainly Catholic side Celtic - together known as 'the auld firm'. The history of rivalry and bad blood between them has included employment discrimination.

Representatives from the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities also joined Jack McConnell, the First Minister, to see the match at Celtic Park in Glasgow.

Mr McConnell said: "Tackling sectarianism is about much more than football, and it is important that we tackle the wider issues.

"However, joint visits such as this send a clear signal that Scotland is uniting in its efforts to rid the country of bigotry and religious hatred.

"The Old Firm clubs can be proud of the lead they have shown in recent times.

"There is still some way to go, but I look forward to continuing our progress towards creating a better society.

Mr McDonald said none of the leaders cheered on a particular side. "I think most people thought it was a good idea to demonstrate in this very simple way that the cardinal and the moderator can sit together at a football match," he said.

"It demonstrates there is no place for bigotry or sectarianism in modern Scotland.

"It is just a little gesture but it certainly caught people's attention and I am glad we did it."

Last year Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow Mario Conti criticised European football's governing body, UEFA, for its decision not to fine Rangers fans for anti-Catholic singing during the club's Champions League matches against the Spanish club Villareal.

The offending behaviours of Rangers fans included the anti-Catholic chants, insults to the Pope and a traditional song 'Billy Boys' which talks about being "up to our knees in Fenian blood."

The UEFA report concluded that such songs were part of "Scotland's social and historical background."

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