Tuesday night’s decision to tear down the national flag and abandon the national anthem before the Northern Ireland v Republic of Ireland international ladies game is the latest in a long line of IFA attempts to embrace the overtly political ‘parity of esteem’ principle.
Football should always be open to all and be non-political. It should simply operate within the constitutional framework that exists when it comes to international anthems and symbols. The IFA have went to great lengths to meddle in expressions of sovereignty, including dropping the tradition of the national anthem before a cup final a number of years ago in order to placate those hostile to the legitimacy of the state.
Such moves by the IFA are overtly political and are part of their wider strategy to embrace the Belfast Agreement contrived ‘parity of esteem’ agenda. This agenda demands ‘equality or neutrality’ in relation to expressions of sovereignty and sadly the IFA are increasingly moving towards trying to embrace this nationalist agenda.
The ‘Kick Sectarianism Out of Football’ project by the IFA was sensible and it was important. It is vital that no player, no club or supporter should be abused or disadvantaged because of their religion or background. But the IFA, once they had achieved a family friendly atmosphere, couldn’t stop there. Instead they had to proceed down a path of deploying a subtle kind of positive discrimination, whereby they were almost embarrassed by the sovereign symbols of the country and sought to move towards becoming a neutral team within a contested state.
As I previously mentioned even the cup final fell afoul of this positive discrimination in recent years. The sovereign anthem of the United Kingdom, which had traditionally been sung a cup finals, was suppressed- to the detriment of those that supported this tradition- in order to pander to Cliftonville and others who refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the state.
Further than this the IFA’s ‘Kick Sectarianism Out’ agenda is not applied equally across the board, especially within local football. I have found there to be a tolerance of sectarianism directed towards clubs from a unionist background meanwhile the IFA and other affiliated leagues will bend over backwards to facilitate and placate predominately nationalist clubs lest they pull the victim card and taint the IFA’s agenda of ‘outreach’.
The lame excuse used for Tuesday night’s shameful decision is that there was a “threat”, or so they say. Who made the threat? was the PSNI informed? was the “threat” graded or- if it even happened- was it simply the work of some drunk?
The assertion that some mythical threat caused the abandonment of the national flag and anthem is, in my mind, simply absurd. It is either a spoof or it is idiotic. Do the IFA now cave in every time there is a fantasy “threat”?
What does it say about the competence of our national football association when they publicly claim they can not manage “safety concerns” around a ladies football match. How could they ever be trusted to host a big event?
It is probably more likely that the IFA decided to contrive this situation in order to test the waters in case Northern Ireland end up playing the Republic of Ireland in the near future. Last night was simply a pre-cursor to the decision the IFA would push in the event of such a game.
The IFA have continually involved themselves in matters of politics and identity. They waded in by shamefully suppressing the national anthem from cup finals in recent years, and I believe they again took a politically convenient decision on Tuesday night.
As such the IFA have some explaining to do, they cannot be allowed to hide behind “safety concerns”. There was a political element to this decision and as such I believe the IFA need to state very clearly that they respect the constitutional position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom and indeed the national team represent this part of the United Kingdom. Such an affirmation is necessary to redress the balance after a number of years of discriminating against those from a British tradition.