Irish Legend Paul McGrath Endorses FAI’s New Intercultural Football Plan

Paul McGrath became one of the first Irish internationals footballers of mixed race when he made his debut against Italy in 1985. Paul McGrath pictured at the Intercultural Football Plan launch

He played for his country on 83 occasions throughout a glittering International career which saw him feature prominently in the Green jersey at two World Cup finals tournaments in 1990 and 1994.

The Ireland that McGrath inhabits nowadays is a completely different place with the 2006 census confirming that around one in ten of those living in the country have a nationality other than Irish, a proportion which has nearly doubled since 2002.

Unfortunately, discrimination and 'racism' still exists in Irish society and McGrath is delighted that the FAI have made it their responsibility to challenge discrimination in a proactive fashion.

The strategy devised in the association's Intercultural Football Plan is designed to examine how best, in the context of this diverse society, the FAI can encourage increased participation in football among people from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds as well as stamping out the spread of ‘racism’.

A fundamental driver of the three-year plan was the establishment of the Football Intercultural Advisory Group (FIAG) in March 2006. The forum drew from other organisations who had operated in the field including: Show Racism the Red Card, Sport Against Racism in Ireland, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which also kindly provided significant funding through the National Action Plan against Racism.

The FAI then took the lead a year ago in terms of commitment to inter-culturalism by being the first National Governing Body to appoint a full-time National Co-ordinator, Des Tomlinson, to oversee this important sector.

The association engaged specialists Neil Jarman (Institute of Conflict Research) and Robin Wilson to formulate and encapsulate the overall plan.

Sixty face-to-face interviews were held to obtain a broader trawl of views from the family family, including those involved in grassroots development.

A consultative event held in Dublin during February of 2007, attended by a range of stakeholders, presented the initial findings of the study by the consultants.

Paul McGrath is delighted that the plan has been launched and complimented the FAI on their meticulous preparation of the strategy.

"This has been planned down to last detail and its clear that Chief Executive John Delaney and his staff at the FAI have put a lot of thinking into it.

"Racism in the game has been around for so long," admitted the former St. Patrick’s Athletic, Manchester United and Aston Villa defender. "However, this is a great initiative to get the awareness of the issue started."

"I think this plan will at least lessen the incidence of racism. It won't eradicate it altogether because there will always be an element attempting to bring the game down and undo the good work done by the majority of people.

When I came into game, I was always getting called something from the terraces. The options were to either accept it or climb into the terraces to deal with it which I wasn't about to do.

What it did was make me try harder to shut them up and maybe that helped my career. Hopefully, people of other races in Ireland today can look back on my career and think, if Paul can do it, why can't I?"

McGrath praised the prime aim of the plan of encouraging increased participation in football among people from minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

"Ireland such a multi-cultural society now," he stressed. "I’m sure there are an awful lot of good players out there itching to get involved with local teams but are possibly a bit frightened to think they might be subjected to abuse.

With Ireland being Ireland, I'm confident they will be accepted and welcomed into teams. Players from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds would enhance teams too and that's got be a good thing for soccer and society as a whole."

The plan, launched at City Hall Dublin, focuses on four overarching objectives: