Football, politics and religion: beyond division

By Katie MacFadyen
26 Aug 2012

The final Festival of Spirituality conversation and Civic Cafe, The Power of Youth and Football to heal a Divided City, proved extremely rewarding, with opinions and perspectives contributed from everyone from teenage actors to Scottish schoolteachers to Italian migrants.

As was said several times over the course of the afternoon at St John's Church, Edinburgh, on 25 August 2012, football and sectarianism is a topic which often prompts even the most reluctant of people to open up about their opinions and emotions.

Author Theresa Breslin, playwright Martin Travers and Jenny Marra MSP were joined by actors Liam and Kieran in opening up the discussion.

Ms Breslin emphasised that Divided City, the book upon which a successful community theatre production was based, is about friendship as much as it is about division, and this ultimately set the tone for the rest of the conversation.

Though there were a few dissenting voices, suggesting that whenever religion is involved there can never truly be any hope, it was concluded that the younger generation is in fact very open to change and education as younger people can often see more clearly. It was even suggested that children have a natural sense of 'justice' that adults often lack.

One question that came up several times was whether football is part of the problem or part of the solution. It was suggested that football is, in many ways, 'war by another name', and there was some disagreement over whether or not competitive sports are inherently damaging.

One response was that the difference between winning by being the best and winning by undermining your opponent is vital. Football also includes collaborative and community elements.

There was a strong feeling that it is attitudes to football that are the problem, in particular rampant commercialisation, rather than football itself.

Sectarian attitudes can exist independently of both football and religion. It was suggested that oftentimes it is football getting wrapped up in alcohol and violence, rather than vice versa, that is the real challenge.

Many suggested that 'demonising' football is definitely not the answer and that providing better opportunities and facilities for football among the young could and should help to prevent violence.

Above all, it was agreed that education is key. Sometimes that means even the most minimal learning about the history and culture of the opposing team - including, but certainly not restricted to, Celtic and Rangers.

Ultimately, we all have a responsibility to help tackle sectarianism and other forms of bigotry and hatred in Scotland today. Passing the buck will not do.

The production and the play have been supported by the Scottish Government as part of a community drive against bigotry.

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(c) Katie MacFadyen is a media intern with the Festival of Spirituality and Peace. She is studying Classics at the University of Edinburgh, and has also been reviewing on the Fringe.

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