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Golf clubs to be targeted in fight against sectarianism

GOLF officials and the management of clubs are to be targeted by Scotland's leading anti-bigotry charity in a bid to tackle sectarianism.

Scores of clubs across the country are to be offered sectarian awareness training amid claims many are "less than enthusiastic" about welcoming members from certain religious traditions and backgrounds.

Nil by Mouth's move comes as it shifts its emphasis away from the football terraces.

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The charity, set up following the murder of Celtic fan Mark Scott in 1995, said anecdotal evidence of sectarian attitudes within golf had been presented to it in recent years.

Allegations range from clubhouse jokes about schooling to claims people from certain backgrounds have been denied positions on club teams, and had their membership applications delayed.

Nil by Mouth, which works with the police, public and private sectors, is to get in touch with 50 clubs mainly in the west of Scotland and the central belt.

The move comes as the country prepares to host the Ryder Cup between the US and Europe in September.

Depending on the uptake of the offer, Nil by Mouth is considering rolling out the scheme to bowling clubs.

But while the Scottish Golf Union (SGU), which represents almost 600 clubs, said it was "committed to the principles of equality", claims bastions of middle-class suburbia may suffer from lingering attitudinal bigotry may not go down well with individual clubs and members.

Nil by Mouth campaign director Dave Scott said: "Sectarian attitudes don't just manifest themselves through acts of violence and songs, but also through quiet acts of discrimination and attitudes within organisations.

"Golf clubs play an important commercial, social and sporting role in our communities.

"Participants in our workshops often tell us that certain clubs are perceived as being less than enthusiastic about welcoming members from certain religious cultures or traditions.

"That's why we are contacting golf clubs right across west central Scotland to make them aware they can benefit, at no cost, from this project."

Mr Scott also said that given the significant public investment in the sport through Cashback for Communities programmes and sponsorship through state-owned banks such as Royal Bank of Scotland "the sport needs to make every effort to ensure it's seen as being open to all".

As part of its £112,000 Scottish Government funding, the charity is also required to take its anti-sectarian message to sports clubs, as well as workplaces and employers.

He added: "We hope this offer will help chase any lingering sectarian attitudes out of the shadows."

One golfer, who also works in the sport, said: "You still hear jokes about schools, and decades after my father joined a Lanarkshire club people say 'How were you allowed to join here?'.

"Even on very prestigious courses on the east coast there's a tangible 'them and us' in the club house."

Andy Salmon, SGU deputy chief executive, said: "The Scottish Golf Union and Scottish Ladies' Golfing Association are committed to the principles of equality and aim to promote golf as a sport for life which is accessible to all."

Last year, a row broke out over single-sex clubs after The Open was held at Muirfield in East Lothian, where women are banned from being members.

Peter Dawson, chief ­executive of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews described single-sex clubs as a way of life that golfers liked. He said they "not on any kind of par with racial discrimination or anti-semitism".

SGU chief executive Hamish Grey has also been criticised for his membership of Royal Burgess in Edinburgh, the oldest golfing society in the world, having been founded in 1735 and a bastion of all-male golf.

In Northern Ireland, both DUP and Sinn Fein junior ministers suggested at a community relations conference 18 months ago that despite visible issues like marches and flags, the province's golf clubs may also harbour closeted sectarian attitudes.

It led to a political storm, with the DUP apologising and the Golf Union of Ireland claiming discrimination was not an issue for any of its members.

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