England forward Raheem Sterling defends gun tattoo

Sterling's tattoo was pictured during training in Burton-on-Trent on Bank Holiday Monday Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sterling's tattoo was pictured during training in Burton-on-Trent on Bank Holiday Monday

England footballer Raheem Sterling has defended his new tattoo of a gun, saying it has a "deeper meaning" and refers to his late father.

Anti-gun campaigners criticised the Manchester City forward after he shared a photo of himself with the tattoo of an M16 assault rifle on his leg.

The image has been called "totally unacceptable" and "sickening".

But Sterling said it reflects a vow he made to "never touch a gun" after his father was shot dead when he was a boy.

According to previous reports, Sterling's father was killed in Kingston, Jamaica.

Sterling, 23, who will travel to Russia this summer as part of England's World Cup squad, first revealed his tattoo in a photo posted to Instagram of himself in training with team-mates at St George's Park.

Image copyright @sterling7/Instagram
Image caption Sterling is currently in World Cup training with the England squad

Lucy Cope, who founded group Mothers Against Guns after her son was shot dead in 2012, said Sterling should not play for England unless he gets rid of the tattoo.

Speaking to the Sun newspaper, she said: "This tattoo is disgusting. Raheem should hang his head in shame. It's totally unacceptable.

"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."

Sterling, who joined City from Liverpool for £49m in July 2015, responded on Instagram on Monday evening.

Image copyright @sterling7/Instagram
Image caption Many fans and football commentators defended Sterling on social media

Former England player-turned-pundit Gary Lineker said Sterling was "a terrific footballer with a brilliant work ethic", and called the Sun's treatment of him "disgusting".

Many who tweeted their support highlighted the footballer's interaction with fans at a training event at St George's Park and other experiences of Sterling's character.

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