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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 20:31 GMT 21:31 UK
Bigotry puzzle for Old Firm
Rangers and Celtic players
Rangers and Celtic support the scheme
Celtic and Rangers have teamed up to support a campaign to fight religious bigotry.

But the Glasgow football rivals admitted they did not know how they can go about eradicating sectarian chants among their own supporters.

Celtic manager Martin O'Neill and Rangers player Arthur Numan both admitted it was "difficult" to give religious bigotry the red card, when they attended the launch of the Sense Over Sectarianism scheme in Glasgow's City Chambers.

Later, Liberal Democrat MSP Donald Gorrie raised questions over the efforts of the Old Firm against religious hatred.

Celtic manager Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill: "No answer"
Rangers have historically had a Protestant following with Catholics supporting Celtic and in recent years the clubs claim to have made efforts to stamp out bigotry.

Stars from both teams backed the new scheme, which has been awarded a 402,000 grant from the Millennium Commission, but said they did not know what more they could do.

The project is also being backed by Glasgow City Council, the Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland and anti-sectarianism charity Nil By Mouth.

The three-year initiative will invite applications for grant money to set up new projects opposing bigotry and sectarianism in communities across the city.

Sectarian abuse

Successful applicants will be eligible for up to 3,300 each and will be given support to bring their projects to fruition.

The Old Firm were prominently represented at the news conference in Glasgow's City Chambers to launch the scheme.

Celtic manager Martin O'Neill admitted it could be "difficult" to stop sectarian chanting at football matches.

In response to a question, he said: "You are asking me if I could make an appeal? Do you think that would be heard if we were 3-0 down at home in a game?

"I think that might be quite difficult.

Main concern

"I would say that the chanting would probably be levelled at me, to be perfectly honest."

When pressed on what he could do, as a manager, to stop fans chanting sectarian abuse, he said: "I don't have an answer."

Rangers defender Arthur Numan said that players were first of all "entertainers" and what happened on the pitch was their main concern.

He said: "What happened today, I think it is positive.

Rangers player Arthur Numan
Arthur Numan: "Difficult"
"If Rangers and Celtic both support the initiative and then maybe the players can help as well.

"But it is very difficult to find a solution."

Senior executives from both Celtic and Rangers were asked if the clubs could do more to stop sectarian chanting by supporters at their grounds.

Rangers director Douglas Odam said: "I'm not convinced we could do a lot more.

"We can always do more because the problem is still there.

"We actually get accused now of having done so much that the fans hardly dare open their mouths."

All-inclusive approach

Celtic chief executive Ian McLeod said: "In our case, we launched Bhoys Against Bigotry in '96.

"We followed that up with Youth Against Bigotry which is endeavouring to educate the young on having an all-inclusive approach and respect for all aspects of the community - all races, all colours, all creeds."

The Millennium Commission grant will be topped up by a 72,000 contribution from the partners over three years.

To promote the initiative around 10,000 leaflets will be distributed at schools, libraries, sports and community centres and churches throughout the city.

Meanwhile, Mr Gorrie was promoting a Members' Bill he has launched in the Scottish Parliament to make sectarian behaviour an aggravation of a criminal offence and to create a code of conduct to tackle it.

Sporting stage

He said the clubs wanted to "clean up their acts" because they were hoping to become major players on the international sporting stage.

He added: "And it is a big motive because the money comes from television, not actually from the fans."

But Mr Gorrie, MSP from Central Scotland, also said some would argue sectarianism had boosted the finances of the clubs in the past.

He said: "There is a school of thought that sectarianism helps the bank balance."

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Forbes McFall reports
"The Old Firm were prominently represented to launch the scheme."
See also:

02 May 01 | Scotland
New move to end sectarianism
08 Feb 01 | Scotland
Fury at MP's Taoiseach warning
29 Apr 00 | Scotland
Woman's bid to beat bigotry
22 Sep 99 | Scotland
Violent reminder of sectarianism
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