Top Issue 1-2024

31 August 2023 Edition

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A game of football can go a long way

• Mark Ward with Jibril Rajoub, Palestinian FA Chairman

Despite being a FIFA member for 25 years, no EU teams have ever played a soccer match against Palestine. Mark Ward writes on Sinn Féin’s support for a demonstration of sporting solidarity with Palestine.

Palestine became a member of FIFA in 1998 and, in the time since, not one European country has ever played a soccer match against Palestine. I met the Palestinian Football Association in Al-Ram last year and was told that it would welcome the opportunity to play the Irish soccer team. Given the historical connection between Ireland and Palestine, this would be a wonderful show of solidarity. If it was an all-Ireland soccer team, it would be even better.

Ireland has played historic matches previously. In 1951, Ireland became the first country to host Germany after World War Two. We were world leaders then and we could become world leaders again by offering the olive branch to the Palestinian people. 

Before each European Council meeting, which brings together heads of Government across Europe, TDs have the opportunity to raise questions with the Taoiseach before they visit Brussels. Recent topics rightly include sanctions against Russia while they carry out their illegal war in Ukraine. 

Sinn Féin deputies often raise ongoing war crimes being caried out by Israel and the need for this to be included in the debate with the need for sanctions there also. I previously asked the Taoiseach to ask why no members of the EU have played Palestine in international football matches. A FIFA member for 25 years and not a single friendly against an EU team. Would the Irish Government support the hosting of Palestine for an international friendly to make an historic gesture of solidarity? As often is the case, when the Taoiseach returns, there is little to report on Palestine. 

The Dáil passed a Sinn Féin motion in 2014 to recognise the State of Palestine and this has still not been carried out by the three Governments since. Sinn Féin are happy to lead this conversation. Deputy Chris Andrews and I wrote to the FAI to ask about having an international friendly between Ireland and Palestine. The FAI wrote back to say it has no fixtures available in 2023, which I accept, and it is mandated with regard to fixtures by FIFA in 2024. 

Palestine Football game 2

• Mark Ward called an for a Ireland v Palestine international friendly

We have asked it to reconsider and to play a League of Ireland select international, perhaps this year or next year. I tried to put this down as a parliamentary question but it was ruled out of order. We still await clarity on this and we are happy to work with the FAI and the Department of Sport and their Palestinian counterparts in delivering such a match. 

I was in Palestine last year as part of a boxing delegation, the ‘Shamrock and Olive Tree Boxing Project’. The project involved clubs from all of Ireland including Belfast, Dublin, and Waterford. 

When we were travelling from one zone to another, armed Israeli soldiers came onto the bus. They singled out one young lad from Belfast who had the audacity to smile at them when they came on to the bus. The soldiers asked him what he was smiling at and then started roaring and shouting at him. 

I intervened and said he was smiling because he was nervous and that he was Irish and we are a friendly people. They pointed the gun directly at me. Their words to me are ones I will never forget. They said to me there is no Palestine. I saw at firsthand what the Palestinian people have to put up with on a daily basis and it is horrific.

Palestine Football game 3

• A game of football can go a long way in bringing our two countries closer 

Irish awareness of the struggles in Palestine has always been strong, particularly within the republican movement. The similarities of the Irish struggle of a foreign occupying power annexing land and mass evictions of the native Irish has been prevalent for over 800 years and the island of Ireland is still not free, Britain still occupies the North. 

There has always been great solidarity between Irish political prisoners and those in Palestine and there are murals in both Ireland and Palestine that show this. 

Support continues to be strong to this day where local councils often fly the Palestinian flag, student unions pass motions to recognise the state of Palestine, and if you ever watch an Irish international soccer match, you will often see a Palestinian flag in the crowd. 

The Irish people have a real understanding of what it means to be occupied by a foreign power and it is easy to see why we have strong solidarity with the Palestinian people. 

There have been many demonstrations held in cities and villages across the country, the most recent following the murders in Jenin. The Irish people are awake to the atrocities that apartheid Israel are carrying out.

There is quite rightly a sporting boycott on Israel because of the apartheid crimes against the Palestinian people. It was deeply disappointing to see former Irish international soccer player, Robbie Keane, go to manage Maccabi Tel Aviv. My concern is that this move is another attempt at sports washing. 

When people of the stature of Robbie Keane ply their trade in Israel, it is an attempt to gloss over and legitimise the apartheid regime. Robbie Keane said in an interview recently that he was going to Israel for sporting reasons. This is no consolation to the Palestinian people who, only miles from where Robbie Keane now works, are subjected to an apartheid Israeli regime. 

The contrast of an Irish legend going to work in an apartheid state and that of our attempts to bring about an international friendly with Palestine, cannot be starker. The Irish people show a strong sense of solidarity towards the Palestinian people because the struggles of our two countries are so similar. 

While others legitimise the crimes against humanity with their presence, the Irish public advocate for an end to the ongoing annexation and lands, the return of displaced Palestinians and the recognition and support of the Palestinian state. A game of football can go a long way in bringing our two countries closer and reinforce our support for their struggle.

Mark Ward is a Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Mid-West


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