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Football bigots 'wrecking Scots
Story in full TOURISM leaders have admitted that Scotland’s international reputation is being tarnished by sectarian behaviour at football matches.
VisitScotland, Scotland’s tourism agency, spoke out after supporters of Heart of Midlothian disrupted a minute’s silence for Pope John Paul II at their team’s match against Celtic on Sunday.
The story was picked up internationally, with newspapers including the South African Star, the Toronto-based National Post and the Australian reporting that Scots football fans had disgraced themselves by failing to respect the Pope’s death. The influential New York Post ran an article headlined "Soccer Fans Boo Pontiff", while USA Today stated: "Scottish Soccer Fans Jeer During Tribute to Pope". Italy’s Tuttosport reported "Booing from Hearts fans for Pope", while even the China Daily carried a story saying "Scottish Fans Jeer Pope".
The Times-Picayune in New Orleans headlined its story "Unholy Hooliganism" and ran an opinion piece which said: "Booing the deceased Pope is disgustingly mean-spirited and ugly. The weekend’s outbursts didn’t reveal a rift between Catholics and Protestants as much as they revealed the difference between decency and disrespect."
VisitScotland has admitted that such headlines are damaging to the country, which over the past two decades has largely benefited from the good behaviour of its football supporters.
A spokesman for the tourism agency said that the negative coverage, particularly in the United States, had come at a bad time, given the success of Tartan Week in New York.
He said: "VisitScotland obviously denounces the actions of a small minority of bigots and it is fair to say this kind of behaviour is extremely embarrassing and does not reflect well on the nation as a whole.
"The international newspaper coverage in the wake of the incident was clearly widespread and presented a blemish on the otherwise outstanding reputation Scotland has as one of the most hospitable and welcoming nations in the world.
"The fact that the story received considerable exposure in the US after the success of Tartan Week is particularly disappointing. We don’t expect it will do any significant damage to tourism figures - but it doesn’t exactly help."
Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has also spoken out. "Whatever happened, and I didn’t see the incident or hear it, is not reflective of Scotland as a whole," he said.
The Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League decided to leave the decision over whether to hold a minute’s silence before league matches to the clubs involved. The SFA, however, ordered the tribute to be held before both of the cup semi-finals.
The minute’s silence at the Hearts’ game was cut short by the referee because of the disruption from fans.
Strathclyde Police later said that six supporters were arrested for sectarian breach of the peace, although none of this was related directly to the disruption of the minute’s silence.
After the match, Hearts’ chief executive Phil Anderton apologised to Celtic’s supporters and condemned those who failed to honour the silence.
He said: "Scottish football chose to join with people around the world to observe and respect the minute of silence in tribute to the Pope, and it is disturbing that some Heart of Midlothian fans failed to see the significance of the occasion. There is no room for that sort of behaviour."
Speaking for the first time about the incident yesterday, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland told The Scotsman that the incident was shameful and depressing.
He said: "The behaviour of certain football fans last weekend brought shame on themselves, their club and their country.
"At a time when sworn enemies from across the globe stood side by side in respect for the late pontiff, when people of all faiths and none were at one in praising Pope John Paul’s immense contribution, it was depressing but predictable to watch what the First Minister has rightly called ‘Scotland’s shame’ on display once more.
"Lest anyone be in any doubt that bigotry is alive and well in Scotland today, let them view the shameful images of last weekend’s football crowds."
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