'Politics should not be intertwined with sport' says MLA over national anthem row
Politics should be given the red card from football, a man with his feet firmly in both camps has said.
Last week it emerged the IFA had decided against playing the national anthem before the Irish Cup final between Glentoran and Cliftonville to create a “politically neutral environment”.
This provoked outrage from some unionists who described the decision as “disgraceful”.
Alliance MLA and amateur league player Chris Lyttle said political differences should in no way detract from the spectacle on the pitch at the showpiece tie.
Mr Lyttle, who has attended numerous Northern Ireland matches as a supporter, is also a qualified football coach.
He added: “This is a day for the football community to enjoy in an inclusive manner and I wish all the staff, players and fans associated with two of the best teams in the Irish League a fantastic occasion at Windsor Park.
“Politics should not be intertwined with sport in my opinion.”
The move raised concerns among a section of Northern Ireland fans that the playing of The Queen could also be dropped ahead of international matches.
Unionist politicians accused the IFA of “opening a can of worms” over the traditional playing of the national anthem during Northern Ireland matches.
DUP MLA William Humphrey — a member of the Stormont Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee — has hit out at the IFA for reopening the anthem debate.
He was part of a DUP delegation which met with football chiefs on Wednesday to discuss the issues surrounding the cup final at Windsor Park and Northern Ireland team.
“A number of people have been in touch with a number of my colleagues in constituencies across Northern Ireland basically thinking this was a kite-flier for the national anthem to be dropped at international matches,” he said.
“I think the challenge cup committee by their decision have brought politics into sport.
“The issue of the national anthem being played at international matches was settled.
“There was a debate around it a couple of years ago but it was settled.
“This reignited the whole debate, which is regrettable because the Irish Football Association through Football For All have actually being doing tremendous work which we as a party fully support.”
Mr Humphrey said the delegation was given assurances by the IFA the playing of the The Queen prior to Northern Ireland games was not in jeopardy.
And he said the IFA vowed to provide details of how the committee came to the decision ahead of the Irish Cup final.
Around 12,000 supporters are expected to attend the game. The IFA was unavailable for comment.
The IFA has been widely praised throughout the game for its Football For All campaign aimed at driving sectarianism out of local football. The IFA has said the decision to not to play the national anthem at this weekend’s Irish Cup final did not set a precedent for future finals, which they said would be decided upon on a case by case basis.