The Green and White Army has been dragged unwillingly into city council politics in Belfast once again. SDLP councillor, Declan Boyle, proposed a motion calling for the Northern Ireland football team to boycott World Cup 2018, due to take place in Russia, in protest at that country’s participation in the war in Syria.
Mr Boyle attracted fewer than one thousand votes in the last local election, but he’s used his mandate to urge a national football association to intervene in one of the thorniest geopolitical issues in the world today. The absurd grandiosity of his motion aside, it shows a flimsy grasp of the complexity of a vicious civil war in Syria.
Russia’s military support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime is controversial and its methods brutal, but it exposed the ineffectiveness of western countries’ tactics and acted decisively to defeat Islamists in Palmyra and Aleppo. Meanwhile, the US and European countries have pursued a confused policy, including backing tacitly groups linked to Al-Qaeda, when they have been attacked by government forces. To put it mildly, the situation is complicated and it isn’t the Irish FA’s job to weigh the merits of civil war in the Middle East, or to contribute to demonising Russia.
From the moment that Russia was awarded the World Cup, politicians have tried to meddle in the home countries participation and the media has focussed on bribery, hooliganism and Vladimir Putin. The coverage has been biased and it draws upon the West’s political rivalry with Moscow and England’s hurt at not hosting the finals. Actually, there will never be a better time to visit the world’s biggest, most fascinating country.
2018 could be one of the best World Cups ever and Northern Ireland fans will have a ball, should our team qualify.
The dictum “keep politics out of sport” isn’t influential at Belfast City Council. Whether donning Linfield scarves in the council chamber, or proposing to invite multiple national teams to City Hall receptions, local councillors love to court controversy by debating issues related to sport, particularly football, in the council chamber. They should concentrate on matters that fall within their powers, and on delivering better services for their constituents.