The politics of football


Just when you hear that the DUP First Minister is attending GAA games and talking about inclusion they go and mess up understanding of ‘the other’ community once again.

The field of play is the football field, ironically as Martin McGuinness is looking to attend a football match at Windsor Park. But of course it all stems back to the Belfast Agreement that allows anyone on the Irish islands to identify as a British and/or Irish Subject/Citizen. Because of that until a footballer declares a senior level he can play for either Northern Ireland or Ireland through the junior levels and then change allegiance. The net gains are the Irish set up at present.

Nigel Dodds and the DUP want to close this loophole in adults making the decision as to which country to declare for. Often schoolboys decide for the one where they are currently living as it is easier when it comes to travelling.

This is nothing new I remember watching a young Alan Kernaghan play at schoolboy level for Northern Ireland down the road at Clandeboye Park, to later have the Ireland full international play some of his last competitive games as player/assistant manager at Livingston.

Some of our other sports Rugby, Cricket, even bowls compete at an all-Ireland level. A notable exception who came the other way is Barry McGuigan who while from Clones, boxed for Northern Ireland in the 1978 Commonwealth Games, but Ireland in the 1980 Olympics, only to take British Citizenship so he could box for British titles when he turned pro.

There is still a flaw in Dodd’s reasoning and that is that FIFA will still operate the Grandparent rule by which if one of your grandparents were born in a FIFA affiliated member you can decide to play for that one. Many people in Northern Ireland have some connection with the rest of the island. Indeed I’m one such person who when I was an adult considered using that rule when it came to my registration with the IAAF (International Amateur Athletic Federation). With a grandmother born in Donegal I could have competed for the Irish team which at the time would have been easier than the very competitive GB&NI team.

However, the fact that Dodds wants to stop sportspeople deciding when they reach adulthood which nation to represent is in contravention of their rights as laid out in the Belfast Agreement. It is a decision that has been upheld by the Court of Arbitration in Sport. But what is most certainly is, however, is yet another example of the DUP talking about understanding of ‘other communities’ yet falling short when they want something different that the DUP’s unionist ideals.

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