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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

IFA to launch campaign against domestic violence

(by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times)

Northern Ireland's football association is to launch a campaign against domestic violence, after the Police Service of Northern Ireland revealed there was a huge increase in attacks during the last World Cup.

Using the slogan "Real men don't hit women", the IFA's campaign will be introduced by Laurie Sanchez, the team manager, during Wednesday's international match against Sweden at Windsor Park. It is believed to be the first time a European soccer organisation has tackled the issue. According to the PSNI, there was a 9% increase in reports of domestic violence in the north during last summer's football tournament in Germany. Neither Northern Ireland nor the republic qualified for the competition.

The biggest increase, 90%, was recorded in Lisburn. In Limavady, Co Derry, reports were up 80% and in east Belfast incidents of domestic violence were up 75% on the same period the previous year.

Sanchez said he and the IFA were shocked by the figures. "I suspect it was mostly alcohol-related," he said. "The drinking issue is one of the most negative things associated with football. People, when they're drunk, usually make their biggest mistakes.

"Domestic violence is a massive problem. It is something that touches us all and could be happening to your sister, friend or work colleague. Our message is quite simple: real men don't hit women, they take a stand against violence on women."

Nobody at the IFA, however, was prepared to comment on the fact that Northern Ireland's most famous footballer, George Best, was a self-confessed wife beater. Best, who died in 2005, is commemorated throughout the north, but his domestic violence is rarely mentioned.

An alcoholic, he once hacked off his second wife Alex's hair and drew on her body with a marker pen. His first attack occurred on her 25th birthday, when he punched and kicked her. She was persuaded by his friends not to press charges against him.

The footballer was also publicly supportive when Paul Gascoigne, the former England footballer, confessed to assaulting his wife, Sheryl.

The campaign is part of the IFA's Football for All initiative, which has tackled sectarianism and racism in the sport. The aim is to make football family friendly and persuade more women and girls to participate in and attend matches.

Later this year it plans to tackle the alcohol abuse associated with the sport by launching a separate campaign in conjunction with the PSNI and the Health Promotion Unit.

According to Michael Boyd, the IFA's head of community relations, the campaign will target local clubs and fans' organisations. "We've really good channels to get the message out about domestic violence," he said. "Our website is one of the most popular in Northern Ireland and our e-zines and magazines are widely read. They'll all be used for the campaign."

The IFA is working in partnership with Amnesty International's stop violence against women campaign. Fionna Smyth of Amnesty said the organisation was keen to involve men in the campaign. A survey last year by the ICM research group showed that almost one-third of men believed domestic violence was acceptable in some circumstances and one in five would not call the police if they knew someone was being mistreated by a husband or boyfriend. While 74% of people would report a person for kicking or mistreating a dog, only 53% would report someone for doing the same to a person.

"We want to challenge attitudes and the complacency around domestic violence," Smyth said. "We want to make domestic violence unacceptable. It's important we engage with young men on this issue."

The IFA campaign aims to encourage fans to promote the issue among themselves, a tactic that proved successful in efforts to stamp out sectarianism at Northern Ireland football matches.

"Our fans were very proactive, drowning out the small minority that were chanting sectarian slogans and making it clear they weren't welcome," Boyd said.

"We're hoping once we get the fans behind the domestic violence issue we can make a real difference."

March 25, 2007

This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on March 25, 2007.