Sectarian row chief married to Celtic fan

THE head of the anti-racism watchdog that has provided evidence of sectarianism which could lead to Rangers having to shut Ibrox for European ties is married to an ardent Celtic fan, it has been revealed.

Piara Powar, the executive director of the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network, is the husband of Aasmah Mir, the BBC broadcaster who has described herself as an enthusiastic Celtic supporter.

Last week, Powar was forced to defend his organisation against claims that an orchestrated campaign had been waged against Rangers, which had resulted in the charges of sectarian singing being brought against the Ibrox club.

It has now emerged that Powar's Glaswegian wife has been reported as declaring herself "passionate" about Rangers' Old Firm rivals, Celtic.

And in a past interview, Mir, a presenter on BBC Radio 5 live Drive who was brought up in Bearsden, has been quoted as saying that she could "never" support Rangers, because she remembered men in the club's shirts handing out BNP leaflets when she was at school.

Rangers were last week charged by UEFA with an offence of alleged sectarian singing by their supporters following the first leg of their Europa League tie with PSV Eindhoven last month.

The club is appealing against the decision later this month but, if unsuccessful, it faces a 100,000 fine and having its fans banned from its next two away fixtures.

The team will also have to play its next two home matches behind closed doors after reports that sectarian songs were sung at the PSV Eindhoven return leg at Ibrox.

Rangers are angry that UEFA's correspondence on the subject includes a complaint from Powar's FARE organisation. At the hearing, Rangers will argue that UEFA should not act on complaints from outside bodies, which might contradict the observations of their own match delegates.

The club's chief executive, Martin Bain, said Rangers had never denied that sectarian singing was a problem but added: "This now has all the hallmarks of a deliberate and targeted campaign against the club."

There is no suggestion that Mr Powar's wife's views have played any part in his decision-making, but the revelation is sure to add to the controversy.

Yesterday, the Rangers Supporters Trust complained that FARE had taken a "highly subjective" approach to the issue of offensive behaviour at matches.

Smith suggested Rangers had been treated unfairly compared with clubs in Spain and Russia. He also said that Spurs fans had shouted racist abuse when the London club played Real Madrid recently.

"Racism is endemic in Spanish football, and Russian football is riddled with it," Smith said. "FARE have a questionable agenda. That's our concern. We are looking to them to explain what Martin Bain has been talking about."

Smith claimed that the Trust had also written to FARE about racist treatment dished out to their Senegalese striker El Hadji Diouf, but had not had a reply.

Mir, 39, is from a Scottish/Pakistani family . After graduating in law from Bristol University, she worked in newspapers and for Scottish Television.

Her CV includes stints on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland. She is a regular on Lorraine Kelly's ITV show Lorraine and joined BBC Five live 10 years ago.

Mir has said in interviews that she began supporting Celtic when she worked at Scottish Television. In interviews, she has described herself as a "huge" and "passionate" fan. She said she chose Celtic, because she saw the team as the underdogs.

She said: "I've always had an affection for the underdog. But it never was going to be Rangers anyway - not since my schooldays when I remember these older guys coming to the school gates wearing Rangers tops and handing out leaflets supporting the BNP."

Mir and Powar declined to comment yesterday, as did Rangers FC.