‘It’s unacceptable. I just want to get it out that there’s certainly no place for racism in sport and in society’ – Jim Crawford

Republic of Ireland U-21 manager Jim Crawford. Photo: Sportsfile

Sean O'Connor

Ireland U-21 manager Jim Crawford has called on social media companies to do more to stamp out racism, after members of Ireland’s U-15 team were targeted with online abuse this week.

On Friday night, the FAI issued a statement saying they were working with Gardaí after some members of the U-15s were subjected to “vile and horrific racist abuse”.

Many across the Irish game have echoed the FAI’s condemnation of the abuse and come out in support of the victims in recent days.

On Saturday morning, Kerry FC also said they were “shocked, disappointed and angry” after some of their players were abused online following their game against Athlone Town. Crawford says such abuse is unacceptable and implores social media companies to do more.

“I have run so many programmes with black kids loving football, and then I hear this s**t that goes on,” said an emotional Crawford, speaking ahead of their friendly against Iceland in Cork tomorrow (4.0).

“It's unacceptable. I just want to get it out that there's certainly no place for racism in sport and in society. It comes from a minority, it comes from uneducated people and it comes from social media platforms where people can disguise their names and identities.

“These same people will be cheering for goals if Chiedozie Ogbene or Adam Idah score. They are ignorant but they have to hide behind these fake accounts.

“I do think social media companies have got to do something about this. Companies have got to start doing something different and a more in-depth registration process to give you an account. Certain people think it's a laugh and a joke, but it's not, it's a lot deeper than that.”

Crawford reveals his side held a team meeting on Friday night in the wake of the FAI’s statement, where his players explained their personal views on what it means to be Irish to them.

“Last night we had a meeting with the U-21s, led by David Forde (FAI High Performance Consultant) about what it means to be Irish,” added Crawford.

“We had people like Tayo (Adaramola), Festy (Ebosele) and Bosun (Lawal). They're as proud as anything putting on the green jersey, representing Ireland.

“They gave us their backgrounds, and then to hear that this morning, it just makes you angry. I just think it's time that we all just work together on this and stamp it out because it's unacceptable.

“I've worked in the FAI now a long time and I know the work that development officers do on the ground, getting into schools, putting on Show Racism the Red Card programmes and I've been involved in that myself. It's something that I'm very strong about.”

Ahead of tomorrow’s first U-21 outing of 2023, Crawford took his side to see Ireland’s senior team defeat Latvia at the Aviva Stadium last Wednesday. Two of his U-21 graduates starred in the friendly, as Evan Ferguson netted his first senior goal, while debutant Will Smallbone picked up Player of the Match. Crawford says the two are an inspiration to the next generation.

“Although we didn't qualify (last September), I think the real silver lining is Will Smallbone and Evan Ferguson,” he added.

“Looking at them at the Aviva was a real proud, satisfying evening. We brought the whole group out and we stated that here's the pathway from the U-21s to the senior team and here's two players who played in the campaign who will be putting on the green shirt. I thought they were very good, the two of them.

“For Evan to score his first goal, it underlined everything. To get to the Aviva and go, 'Look, this is what it's about. Performing with the U-21s will give you an opportunity, because Stephen (Kenny) wouldn't be afraid to play a young player, as long as they're performing at club level and with the U-21s.

New U-21 captain Joe Hodge echoed his manager's comments “It’s huge for us. We all went to the game and they were probably two of the best players on the pitch. To see a pathway there to get into the first team and end up as important players for the seniors, like Evan and Will were the other night, it’s definitely inspiring for us.”