England forward Raheem Sterling has defended his new tattoo of an M16 assault rifle on his leg after it was branded “disgusting”.
The 23-year-old, who plays for Manchester City, posted a picture of himself training with his England teammates at St George’s Park, with a tattoo of an assault rifle on his right calf clearly visible.
Lucy Cope, who founded Mothers Against Guns after her son Damian was shot dead outside a club in central London in July 2002, said it was “totally unacceptable”.
She told the Sun: “We demand he has the tattoo lasered off or covered up with a different tattoo.
“If he refuses he should be dropped from the England team.
“He’s supposed to be a role model but chooses to glamorise guns.”
But the former Liverpool player, who is among five England strikers heading to Russia for the World Cup this summer, said the tattoo has a “deeper meaning”.
In a post on Instagram, he said: “When I was 2 my father died from being gunned down to death I made a promise to myself I would never touch a gun in my life time, I shoot with my right foot so it has a deeper meaning N still unfinished.”
The Football Association has underlined its support for Sterling.
An FA spokesperson said on Tuesday afternoon: “We all support Raheem Sterling and acknowledge the honest and heartfelt account he gave via Instagram last night.
“He and the rest of the squad are focused solely on preparing for the forthcoming World Cup.”
Gary Lineker is among those who have stepped forward to defend Sterling. He tweeted: “He’s a terrific footballer with a brilliant work ethic. This persecution is disgusting.”
Former Harlequins and England rugby player Ugo Monye tweeted: “People need to leave Sterling alone! He’s explained his tattoo (something he should never have to do as tattoos are personal) bizarre how no one is reporting how his father got shot dead or how this has affected Raheem, instead we’re debating a tattoo.”
Former newspaper editor Piers Morgan also joined in to criticise Sterling, accusing Lineker of losing perspective: “They’re writing about a footballer doing daft stuff, not the genocidal treatment of Rohingyas in Myanmar.”