Glasgow schools on the ball when it comes to tackling racism
The relationship between football and sectarianism is a long established one, not always to football's credit. So it is even more impressive that the game is being used in Glasgow schools to tackle racism and sex discrimination with a nine-school football tournament entitled A League for All.
In partnership with Glasgow City Council, Patrick Thistle Football Club, the Scottish Refugee Council, and The Jags Trust, anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card began the initiative in February. A series of visits to schools consisted of football coaching sessions and discussions on the topic of racism. Professional footballers such as Thierry Henri, Samuel Eto'o, Barry Ferguson and Stephen McManus featured on a DVD, alongside young people who have spoken of their experiences, promoting the message that we should all live in an equal society, free from racism.
At the closing event recently, six of the schools gathered at Petershill football ground. It was a five-a-side football tournament, with each team a mixture of ethnicity and gender. The message is clear - no matter what your colour or background, we can all work together.
Typical Glasgow drizzle has not dampened the enthusiasm and, while two teams play, others are warming up on the side.
Brian Bourke, principal teacher at St Ninian's Primary, is convinced that the good work is bringing results. "We have pupils from different countries - Zimbabwe, Poland, Belize. I would say our kids are tolerant, because we do a lot of work in this area. Football is an excellent way to teach them to accept faults in others, to work together and to be responsible on and off the pitch."
Roseanne Rawdon, P7 teacher at St Brendan's Primary, agrees. "This is the age to target them, so that the message has an effect when they grow up. The DVD we watched was hard-hitting at times. But it is better than me standing up and telling them."
All the schools have spent time covering racism and sectarianism, reading books such as Divided City by Theresa Breslin. At Yoker Primary they made their own adapted version of the play.
Eleven year old Oliwia Milewska came to Scotland from Poland almost three years ago, and attends Yoker Primary. "I have had people make nasty comments and call me names. This will educate them not to do that," she says.
Pawel Kozubal, a 12-year-old pupil at St Ninian's Primary, feels that he has settled in well since arriving from Poland four years ago. "I have found the people welcoming," he says. "But I was still interested to read Divided City, and I enjoy playing football."
While school visits over the last four months have had some hard hitting messages, there has been plenty of light hearted activity, with coaching sessions in the schools in the run up to the tournament.
Tommy Breslin is Show Racism the Red Card's education co-ordinator. "Show Racism the Red Card is an anti-racism charity which was set up in 1996 using the role model of football. The sport can be a great vehicle; it has role model status. Also, football clubs are multicultural workplaces. Society can learn a lot from them."
"We have been going into schools in the west of Glasgow, providing anti- racism sessions, showing films of ex-professional footballers speaking about racism, and following this up with discussion. All the feedback has been positive and some schools have asked us back. The message is hard- hitting, but with some football attached, says Mr Breslin
"It is important that all people are treated equally. We are all equal and all deserve respect. People should be judged on their character, not their colour. It is important that Scotland is a welcoming home for those seeking refuge."
Francine Whitmore is assistant education co-ordinator at the Glasgow Asylum Seeker Support Project. "Show Racism the Red Card and Jags Trust approached me about running this and I liaised with schools, explaining what it was about. We received a fabulous response, with schools keen to take part. It does make a difference, even just the fact that it is a day out. It shows that anti-racism is fun and active."
Gary Mackay, ex-Hearts and Scotland player, has been coaching the pupils and talks of one boy, Momad, whom he coached a few years ago and who opened his eyes to racism.
"There were a couple of times when Momad was on the ball and being tackled that the reaction from other players was different from what it would've been if he'd been white. There was no doubt it was due to his background. When I spoke to Momad, he said that he got it on a daily basis and that football was a relief and escape from it."
From a teacher's point of view, the combination has worked, and although most schools involved report that racism is not a problem, they don't underestimate the necessity of reinforcing the message.
Lesley Clark is depute head at Bankhead Primary. She says: "This is a culmination of work over the past term. We are in partnership with Corpus Christi Primary and work together. There is no problem with racism in the school, but there is some in the wider community.
"It is about making them feel good citizens for the future. Anything that raises awareness is good. It breaks down barriers and gives a positive statement that it is not OK to be like this."