Sports roundup: Our Wee Country to host colonial settler state

UDA Israeli flag

In the normal run of things, I don’t pay too much attention to the Norn Iron football team. Even if I was that way inclined, their form or lack thereof could cause the most patriotic Ulster Scot to lose interest after a while. But tomorrow night there’s a treat on at Windsor. Yes, as part of a bumper round of international friendlies, the north is hosting Israel. Definitely a match in the “can’t they both lose?” category.

This was being discussed on Talk Back earlier, since the good folks of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign were not, it’s fair to say, altogether enamoured with the fixture, and were protesting outside the IFA headquarters. In response to this, we had interviews with a representative from the IFA, and that mad loyalist with ginger hair who’s always being interviewed on behalf of the Norn Iron supporters. Both of them were adamant that they wanted politics kept out of sport. This was, they said, their bedrock principle. But I don’t think it entirely works like that.

As a rule, I’m a bit cautious about sporting boycotts. If athletes don’t want to go to Zimbabwe or China, of course that’s a matter for them and they have every right to follow their conscience. On the other hand, deadbeat politicians are in the habit of calling on sportsmen to take this or that action as a fig leaf for their own inactivity – see the Foreign Office’s antics over England playing cricket with Zimbabwe. Historically, though, South Africa was a different case as sport in South Africa was run on racist lines. Once segregation and white supremacy were removed from SA sport, so too was the boycott.

That was an example of a good reason. There’s a good reason too in this case, which is a good deal more immediate than disapproval of this or that Israeli policy. You see, there is a Palestinian national football team. Via the Palestine Football Federation, it’s a member of FIFA, and has been recognised by the world governing body since 1998. Yet the team faces severe ongoing problems, most notably an inability to play either home or away fixtures as a result of restrictions imposed by the occupying power – surely that counts as bringing politics into sport. That, it seems to me, is a good enough reason to think twice about playing fixtures against Israel. Indeed, Brazil has refused to play Israel on precisely those grounds.

Worth mentioning, also, that we’re not talking here about a World Cup or Euro qualifying fixture, where you have to play whoever you’re drawn against. We’re talking about a friendly, which is taking place because the IFA issued an invitation to its Israeli counterpart. And of course, having done so, the IFA will not want to lose either face or revenue, so the match will go ahead. Well, at least there is a fair stockpile of Israeli flags in loyalist areas of Belfast. Should make the away supporters feel welcome.


  1. Garibaldy said,

    August 12, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Another question is whether there will be another riot, like there was against the Poles. I doubt it, but it might be funny if there were to watch people explain it. If any pro-Palestenian protestors go to the ground, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get attacked.

  2. Liam said,

    August 12, 2009 at 9:32 am

    It’s all very well leafletting outside the IFA offices but I’ll be sorely disappointed if Belfast’s progressives don’t take their message of solidarity with the Palestinians to the many thousands of open minded Norn Iron supporters the match will give them a chance to talk to.

  3. Simon said,

    August 12, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    I can’t resist. That flagpole is brill.

  4. Doug said,

    August 12, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    And if they run out of Israeli flags they can always ring Denham for some more.

  5. Liam said,

    August 12, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    Not a great result. 1-1 and an asteroid didn’t hit the pitch.

    Perhaps this site’s readers who were there can report how Niall McGinn’s substitution went down with the home crowd.

    • prospero said,

      August 12, 2009 at 11:37 pm

      “Perhaps this site’s readers who were there can report how Niall McGinn’s substitution went down with the home crowd.”

      Why do you ask? I wasn’t at the match but I imagine it wouldn’t have gone down any differently than any other Catholic who has played for NI (eg former captain Gerry Taggart who was immensly popular with the terrace fans and of course Gerry Armstrong ,a former Hannahstown GAA player, who is probably the most popular NI player ever).

      Spare me the silly innuendo about the IFA deliberately bringing Israel over for loyalist supoorters (NI fans are not all like that) or for reasons of not losing revenue; the match was actually below sell-out for the first time in quite a while.

  6. Ciarán said,

    August 13, 2009 at 9:15 am

    For anyone who missed it, Ian Knox has a great cartoon in yesterday’s Irish News challenging the whole ‘keep politics out of it’ line.

  7. ejh said,

    August 13, 2009 at 10:31 am

    They partitioned the points then

  8. ejh said,

    August 13, 2009 at 10:32 am

    (Well, the goals anyway, duh)

  9. Jim Denham said,

    August 15, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    “Left” ant-semites out in force, as could be predicted.

    Funny how most of you support the peace process and reconciliation in the six counties, whereas Israel is a “colonial settler state.”

    But then, there always was that tradition, wasn ‘t there? Y’know, the Blueshirts. etc.

  10. Neil said,

    August 15, 2009 at 10:15 pm


  11. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 16, 2009 at 12:10 am

    Oh, don’t mind Jim. If he can see Blueshirts here, it must be excellent whiskey.

  12. Rosso Verde said,

    August 19, 2009 at 6:47 am

    Funny enough for all thier dodgy politics the blueshirts were less antisemitic than many 1930’s fascist groups. O’Duffy argued against antisemitism in the 1934 Montreux Fascist congress. People can be angry with Israeli policy and support a boycott without an anti-semitic motive.

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