Britain's tabloid newspapers have been accused of making a "seriously disappointing" attempt to single out a top Premier League footballer for being a Muslim - despite the fact that he is actually Christian.
Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku appeared in articles this week in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the The Sun and the Daily Mirror claiming he was unable to pick up a Man of the Match award on the basis he was a "devout Muslim" and therefore “unable to pose with alcoholic gifts”.
Yet readers were quick to point out that Lukaku featured in an article posted last year in Christian Today titled “Five Christian superstars of Euro 2016". Fans at the striker's previous club - Everton - pointed out that Lukaku could regularly be seen making a cross sign on his chest both before matches and during goal celebrations.
And even footage from the player's most recent appearances in Manchester United's preseason US tour, referenced in the tabloid articles, shows Lukaku making the symbol of the cross.
A source expressed disbelief at the recent reports, telling The Independent the Belgian national "is definitely a Catholic", adding: "He reads the Bible every night".
The Mail Online wrote on Tuesday: “Romelu Lukaku missed out on a possible man of the match award after the Manchester derby in the US because of his Muslim faith." The article also featured in the Daily Mail print edition.
The Mirror meanwhile reported that he had been on a list of Muslim and Under 21 players who were “not able to pose with alcoholic gifts [...] because of his Muslim faith”.
The Express and the Sun published the same story the following day, reporting Lukaku “missed out on being named man of the match in one of Manchester United’s US tour matches because he is a Muslim.”
The Sun has in fact reported on Lukaku's faith before. In 2014, it observed that the footballer had travelled to Lourdes, a popular destination for Catholic pilgrimage, and quoted an instagram post in which Lukaku said: "Belief has always been important to me. Live from Lourdes. God is great."
Miqdaad Versi, Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, who has elicited a number of corrections from national newspapers for publishing inaccurate stories about Muslims, said the errors appeared to be examples of “woefully poor journalism” as well as attempts to represent Muslims as “apart from the rest of society”.
He told The Independent: “This latest inaccuracy on an issue related to Muslims appears to be due to woefully poor journalism lacking even basic due diligence by one paper, with the story then replicated without fact-checking on other media platforms.
“Yet, we also need to ask why this was considered a story in the first place: is it because it is another example to show a Muslim apart from the rest of society? Seriously disappointing.”
The newspapers have been contacted for comment but none had responded at the time of publication.
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