The Royal British Legion has condemned the long-running abuse of Stoke City and Ireland midfielder James McClean.
The Legion sells poppy symbols around the United Kingdom in the build-up to Armistice Day to raise money in support of British veterans. McClean was born and raised in Derry, the Northern Irish city which was severely affected by the Troubles and which was the scene of Bloody Sunday in 1972, when British soldiers killed 14 civilians. He has chosen not to wear the poppy throughout his career due to the events of Bloody Sunday, a decision which has also resulted on vile abuse on the pitch, online and in daily life, as his wife Erin revealed in an emotive social media post last week.
McClean, who grew up as part of Derry’s Catholic community, is one of a handful of Northern Irish-born players to choose to represent the Republic of Ireland, something for which he received sectarian abuse and death threats.
The Football Association of Ireland offered its support to the McClean family, and the Royal British Legion has now spoken out in defence of the player’s choice not to wear a poppy.
“At the Royal British Legion we believe that discrimination, hatred and abusive behaviour in any form have no place in our society and should not be tolerated,” a statement said.
“The poppy is a universal symbol that represents sacrifices made in the defence of freedom, and so the decision to wear it must be a matter of personal choice. To insist that people wear a poppy would be contrary to everything that it stands for. We offer our full support to James for exercising his right to choose not to wear a poppy.”
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