The Belfast Telegraph is a rag. Fatuous nonsense is daily propagated in its opinion pages and columns. Take Laurence White’s ill-informed offering on the eligibility row. It makes me genuinely angry that this hack feels it is necessary to share his opinion on an issue of which he clearly has no knowledge and which he has patently been following only on the most superficial level.
Let’s examine some of the most obvious flaws in White’s piece.
“Unionists argue that introducing this rule will harm relationships between the two international football teams in Ireland.”
This is White’s summation of the entire argument against FIFA’s proposal as expounded on the Assembly floor! Firstly unionists alone did not argue against the proposal. Despite the contention that the debate was disputed along sectarian lines, the cross-community Alliance Party which takes no definite constitutional stance was solidly against the proposal and has been from the outset. The rationale for the IFA position has been set out on this blog ad nauseum and the damage of relations between the two football teams is one of its less compelling facets. Sectarian apartheid in football, the undermining of shared Northern Irish institutions and a manifest lack of fairness all form much more fundamental planks of the argument advanced against FIFA’s proposals.
“Of course, the politicians should get offside on this debate as soon as possible. They have little or no influence with FIFA and their comments, no matter how guarded, will always be interpreted as sectarian.”
This piece of penetrating analysis might have come straight from a school playground or from some brainless bint having her nails polished. “All those politicians are just sectarian so they are”. Of course the most ironic point is that FIFA had indicated that they would rule in favour of the IFA and in line with their own rules, before the Republic of Ireland’s government and a coterie of nationalist politicians began lobbying the world governing body. FIFA have blatantly been influenced by politicians and will choose the path of least resistance. It is up to politicians who are interested in fairness and in shared spaces to make sure that the path of least resistance isn’t this preposterous, gutless proposal.
“The number of international class players in the province who will opt to play for the Republic is small”
This statement completely ignores the prevailing political undercurrents present in society. In case White has missed it, the ethos of the two largest political parties in Northern Ireland is actually separate but equal. The purpose of campaigning so vehemently for the right of Northern players to play for the Southern team is to perpetuate this trend in football. Football does not operate in a vacuum although White obviously is under the impression that it does. Witness these patronisingly imbecilic comments, completely dismissing the notion that footballers might have any other motivation other than money:
“Almost all international standard players play in the English leagues. There the motivation is money, not creed”
“The Northern Ireland team, at present and in the past, has shown that it can perform well above expectations when made up of the best eligible players, no matter what their religious or political beliefs”
That is exactly what the IFA and their supporters are attempting to protect. The essence of the argument is that it is preferable that the Northern Ireland team continues to make use of the best eligible players regardless of their religious or political beliefs. FIFA’s proposal will undermine this.
“There was a sickening episode a few years ago when Neil Lennon, a Catholic and Glasgow Celtic player to boot, was booed by his own Northern Ireland fans, even though he was an integral part of the team.”
This sentence perhaps sums up the lazy, ill-informed nature of the column. Where is the qualification that a tiny number of fans booed Neil Lennon? Where is the acknowledgment that the vast majority of supporters expressed their backing of the player publicly and vocally?
“Thankfully, the IFA acted promptly and effectively against the boo boys.”
The IFA appealed to supporters to back Lennon and this duly happened. It was the supporters who deserve the bulk of the credit for facing down the boo-boys, for galvanising in an impressive display of self-policing and for launching their own campaign to rid Windsor Park of sectarianism.
It is Laurence White, rather than the politicians who should in this instance keep his nose out of football.