Celtic and Rangers have united to help more than 2,000 young people across Belfast’s religious divide.
The Belfast Old Firm Alliance – a three year cross community initiative involving Glasgow’s big two – worked with young people in communities most impacted by the Troubles through a schools-based and community-based projects.
Team mascots Broxi Bear and Hoopy the Hound flew on Tuesday, November 13 to join more than 300 children and young people from 11 primary schools, eight community groups and football clubs to celebrate the initiative which has helped to bridge the city’s sectarian divisions.
Supported by the International Fund for Ireland’s – Sharing in Education Programme, it was delivered by the Belfast Community Sports Development Network (BCSDN) in cooperation with Rangers and Celtic football clubs.
International Fund for Ireland Chair, Dr Adrian Johnston said the Sharing in Education Programme was an integral element of its strategy to promote reconciliation and non-sectarianism.
He added: “The Belfast Old Firm Alliance Programme demonstrates how creative approaches to helping children and young people to engage on a cross-community basis in both educational and community settings can provide important learning experiences to change sectarian attitudes.”
In addition to offering educational benefits through activities that complement the school curriculum, the programme also provided social, health and reconciliation opportunities through a range of activities, which included:
Cross-community football coaching programmes with coaches from both Celtic and Rangers; parent and community initiatives to raise awareness of conflict resolution; community leaders training courses for young people and a Glasgow based residential programme.
Tom Scott, Chairman of BCSDN, the lead partner in delivering the Belfast Old Firm Alliance Programme, said: “It again demonstrates the benefits of collective working; and the additional value of using sport as a way of challenging perceptions and moving towards a shared society.”
Raymond Farrelly, Community Manager of Rangers, said: “Building on a successful pilot project, the Belfast programme demonstrates how the innovative Old Firm Alliance provides excellent opportunities for children to lead a healthier lifestyle while addressing issues such as sectarianism and community safety.”
Robert Docherty, Head of the Celtic Foundation, said: “As a Club open to all since its formation in 1888, Celtic at all times aims to promote inclusion and diversity. We are delighted to have taken part in this project. It has been great success, as have the many other initiatives in this area, which Celtic has undertaken.”