Football/Soccer

Black marks for any judging Ireland's Cyrus Christie on his skin colour

It's depressing that some still target the Republic of Ireland's Cyrus Christie because of the colour of his skin.

BLACK mark. Blackmail. Blackguard. Blacken a name. Blackball. Black ice. Blackleg. Black magic. Black market. Black spot. Black widow.

Just some of the phrases in the English language that portray blackness in, well, a black light.

Those cultural connotations go some way to explain, but never to excuse or condone, the recent racist abuse directed at Republic of Ireland defender Cyrus Christie.

It's profoundly depressing that a few idiots, seeking a scapegoat after the humiliating home defeat by Denmark in the World Cup play-off, singled out Christie.

Christie was actually one of the Republic's better performers over the two legs of the play-off, despite the pressure of continuing to fill in for the long-term injured captain and star Seamus Coleman at right-back.

Perhaps the abuse of Christie could have been construed as xenophobia (which is bad enough in itself) if it were not for threats to `lynch' him, which is clearly racist abuse.

Telling him to go 'back' to Jamaica is simply idiotic, given that he was actually born in Coventry, England.

You can make a case for wanting national team representatives to be from Ireland. I certainly disagree with Ireland's rugby team pulling in players from the southern hemisphere who have no familial connection with this island; even five years' residency is too short in that regard.

Yet plenty of Ireland's soccer heroes of the Eighties and Nineties qualified through `the grandparent rule', and continue to do so, for the international sides both north and south.

Most of us know someone who has had to move away from home to seek work or a better life due to economic pressures here, which leads to people being born abroad but still maintaining their links with Ireland.

Besides, if qualification through a grandparent, being born outside this island, is the objection to Cyrus Christie, why not also criticise Harry Arter, who was also born in England?

We all know the answer to that question.

There's an irony that so many British and Irish people don't want their skin to be pale and white, don't want their lips to be thin, so they pay for expensive treatments to make themselves darker, their lips fuller, yet may still look down on and denigrate people who are naturally darker and with fuller lips.

Ireland, particularly south of the border, has come a long way in becoming more tolerant and welcoming to 'outsiders'.

Yet there is still residual racism which can emerge at any time and, unfortunately, receive far more exposure than it deserves through social media.

To be fair (in the sense of being just, equitable), there is much wisdom and insight on such platforms too.

For example, someone pointed out to a colleague on Twitter that the Irish and British (indeed, white people in general) abroad are labelled 'ex-pats', yet people who come to these isles are called 'immigrants' – or far worse.

Mindsets must continue to change, and not just within older generations.

Children notice everything, they point out differences.

What matters is that they are brought up not to think that 'different' is intrinsically bad, particularly that 'non-white' means 'not Irish'.

How many more years must society evolve before people look at someone with brown skin and ask 'Where are you from?' and genuinely only mean 'Belfast?' or 'Dublin?' or 'Galway' or wherever?

Or even if the answer is 'London' or 'Lagos' or 'Lebanon', the questioner should only be interested in that person – and perhaps thank them for their contribution to Irish society and perhaps to Irish sporting life.

I'm proud that both my children are one-quarter Nigerian and have Yoruba first names.

If either of them grow up to be good enough to play international sport there may be some debate in our household about their allegiance. However, I'd hope everyone will have progressed sufficiently to judge them purely on their performances and nothing else.

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This column tries not to be predictable, to take the anticipated stance on any sporting subject. Reflecting what most people think may be popular but it can also be boring, 'playing to the gallery'.

However, sometimes you do just have to state the obvious, as I've done in the main piece and will do in this section.

If Michael O'Neill decides to leave the Northern Ireland manager's job he should do so with the best wishes and eternal affection of all members of the 'Green and White Army'; and that does seem to be the case, thankfully.

The progress made in less than six years has been tremendous. As the players will readily attest, much of the credit for ending a 30-year wait for an international tournament appearance, breaking into the top 20 of the world rankings for the first time ever, and performing admirably in reaching a World Cup play-off, goes to Michael.

He's the man who prepares teams meticulously, along with the excellent backroom staff he has assembled.

He owes Northern Ireland nothing – and all connected with the IFA and GAWA owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

None of that goodwill should be connected to the death of his mother Patricia, who is to be buried today.

Deepest sympathy is, of course, extended to Michael and his family circle.

The death of a parent is a difficult time for anyone.

Yet, even if his current personal circumstances were far better, Michael O'Neill's achievements in the NI post merit the utmost respect for him if he does decide to take on the Scotland task or a club job.

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