Issue 4-2022 small

5 November 1998 Edition

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Sportsview: Irish News lines out for the RUC

The Irish News has launched a full-blooded campaign to ensure that the Donegal Celtic v RUC soccer match on 14 November takes place. The West Belfast club has been asked, by Sinn Féin, relatives of RUC victims and some local people, to pull out of the fixture. The Irish News says the club's players and committee want it to go ahead.

Last Thursday the paper ran a story by Alex McGreevy headlined ``Public support Celtic's stance'' which claimed ``an overwhelming response from Irish News readers yesterday offered 100 per cent support'' for playing the match. The article quoted a Donegal Celtic player who said ``[Sinn Féin] are sitting down there in Stormont in their so-called government earning £40,000 a year for sweet FA while we are out for nine months of the year in rain, hail and snow trying to bring sporting success to West Belfast''.

A ``Lenadoon football fan'' was quoted as saying ``it's about time these people who wear wooly masks to intimidate football teams and club committees left the people alone to play their football in their own areas.''

The next day McGreevy, a former member of the Donegal Celtic committee, quoted a couple of readers who supported Sinn Féin's stance and also penned an opinion piece on why the game should go ahead.

In another opinion piece on Monday journalist John Haughey accused Sinn Féin of ``gatecrashing'' and ``blundering'' into the issue. Donegal Celtic, he wrote, ``are only the latest victims in a struggle which occasionally subsumes innocent bystanders. The cause is all.''

It is a football matter, he argued, and should be left to the club to decide.

Then a provocatively worded editorial in Tuesday's paper upped the campaign. On Sinn Féin's request to the club not to play the match, the Irish News said, ``It would be hard to imagine a more blatant breach of the spirit of the Mitchell initiative than a political party attempting to impose its will upon a football club.''

This is serious stuff when the Irish News editor can't think of a more blatant breach of the spirit of the Mitchell initiative. Why isn't President Clinton flying over? Why aren't the Unionist parties demanding SF's expulsion from the Assembly? Has anyone told the Cruiser?

In reality, the Irish News is choosing to ignore the point. Every article the paper has carried on the issue implies threats and intimidation and some state it openly. Sinn Féin, it seems, cannot make a political argument without being accused of intimidation. If the SDLP were to call on the GAA to scrap Rule 21 would the Irish News accuse them of ``imposing their will'' on a sporting organisation?

This is not simply a sporting issue, any more than English rugby or cricket tours of apartheid South Africa were simply sporting issues. When those teams wanted to tour in South Africa there were plenty of commentators willing to defend them. ``Don't mix sport and politics'' was the cry. ``The decision should be left with the sporting bodies.''

Progressive voices correctly pointed out that sporting links with South Africa boosted the apartheid regime. It helped towards normalising their society and raising their morale. Cutting sporting links was one element of international sanctions which eventually pushed the white regime towards change.

But surely we have a settlement here? This is a new era and we should let bygones be bygones. Wrong. This is the time when the maximum pressure should be put on the RUC. It is absolutely essential for a new policing service to be put in place. The don't-rock-the-boat philosophy of the Irish News plays into the hands of those forces who want little or no change. It is exactly what we don't need. Send a clear message to the RUC that they are unacceptable. Cancel the fixture.

By Brian Campbell

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1