Road racer Jonathan Rea has spoken of the bullying he suffered at school for rejecting sectarianism
In an interview with The Guardian, Rea told of how he did not understand the nuances of sectarianism of life in Northern Ireland. Rea said:
"I've got good faith but I don't distinguish between Protestants and Catholics.
"I don't follow religion-based football teams.
"I grew up in the country so I was sheltered. I got really bullied at school because I didn't understanding why the kerbs were painted red, white and blue.
"I thought it was a race track. People said, 'No, it's because it's a Protestant area'."
The three-time World Superbike champion is nominated for this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year. In the build-up to Sunday's ceremony, he explained further the scale of the bullying that he experienced:
"I never took part in school sport or played rugby on a Saturday because I went to motocross," he recalled.
"I remember being threatened all the time that I'd get beaten up. The worst was that I would get stabbed on the way to the bus."
Rea hopes that his sporting success, and those of other prominent Northern Irish athletes, can bring the country together:
"The baddest kid said hello to me in my local petrol station," he said.
"He was stacking shelves there and I was racing in the world championship.I thought, 'You've ended up here'.
"I guess he's not the same person he was back then."
"Whether it's Rory McIlroy in golf, Carl Frampton in boxing, the Northern Ireland football team, Ulster Rugby or myself on the bikes, it brings the whole place together. This country is incredible," he said.