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Last Updated:  Friday, 11 April, 2003, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Sectarianism in sport discussed
Irish Football Association logo
Irish Football Association has jointly organised the conference
Ideas to rid Northern Ireland sport of sectarianism are being proposed by international authorities at a Belfast conference.

Experts on sport and social responsibility have been setting out ways of dealing with the problem at the seminar on Friday.

Northern Ireland sport - particularly soccer - has been dogged by a history of sectarianism.

Conference speakers include Helen Miller of the Glasgow-based group Nil by Mouth.

It was set up to rid Scottish football of sectarianism following the murder of a 16-year-old football fan in Glasgow.

"Nil by Mouth was formed in 1999 by Cara Henderson after her 16-year-old school friend Mark Scott was murdered on his way home from a football match," said Ms Miller.

These sentiments and the battle lines that are drawn up across the football pitch extend to the streets and into peoples' homes, hearts and minds
Helen Miller
Nil by Mouth

"Cara was extremely traumatised by what had happened to her friend and began to examine the reasons behind his murder and the culture of religious bigotry that blights Scotland.

"Nil by Mouth believes that it is important to address sectarianism now. If we don't, other forms of discrimination will be allowed to breed.

"Each individual has a role to play and it is pointless to blame someone else for the problems it brings."

'Humiliating the enemy'

She said football mattered to many thousands of people in Northern Ireland, as well as Scotland.

For many fans, Old Firm games (between Glasgow Rangers and Glasgow Celtic), were not only about being top of the Scottish League, but also "getting one over on the enemy", she said.

"For many people it is about dominating and humiliating the enemy.
Neil Lennon (centre) quit over sectarian abuse
Neil Lennon (centre) quit the NI team over sectarian abuse

"These sentiments and the battle lines that are drawn up across the football pitch extend to the streets and into people's homes, hearts and minds."

However, the group said football was only one part of its campaign and that sectarianism was a problem in many other sports.

The conference is part of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council's 'Community Relations Week', which it has organised with the Irish Football Association (IFA), the American Consulate, the Sports Council and the University of Ulster.

IFA community relations officer Michael Boyd said it would address issues critical for sport in a divided society.

"This conference is the most exciting event to happen in the field of sport and community relations in a very long time," he said.

"We have world renowned academics and practitioners coming together from all over the globe with the main goal of enriching sport and community relations in Northern Ireland."

Other speakers at the conference were Professor Jay Croakley from the University of Colorado, Jennifer Hargreaves from London's Brunel University and Dr Dominic Malcolm of the University of Leicester.

Last year, Celtic player Neil Lennon announced he would no longer play for Northern Ireland because he was the target of sectarian abuse and received a death threat.

Anthem 'abused' at internationals
27 Mar 03  |  Northern Ireland
Lennon quits international football
23 Aug 02  |  Northern Ireland
Storm over Sunday soccer
30 Oct 01  |  Northern Ireland
'Putting the boot' into sectarianism
27 Apr 00  |  Northern Ireland

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