Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: IFA must take lead to change the tune

The growing debate over the playing of the British national anthem at Northern Ireland football matches is bound to create controversy, given the extreme sensitivity here about emblems and symbols.

The current discussion has come into focus following the comments from some players who are not comfortable with the British national anthem, even though Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom.

This issue cuts to the heart of our divisions, and there are strong views on both sides. Some people see the anthem as a part of a cherished tradition, while others believe that a move away from the anthem would help to create a fresh start for a multi-cultural approach to Northern Ireland football.

The IFA face a difficult choice, and there are no easy answers. They might find it tempting to cling to the status quo, and while this may buy time in the short term, the debate is unlikely to go away.

Therefore it would be prudent for those in charge of football to consider that things have moved on greatly in Northern Ireland, and that a more open-minded attitude to shared cultural symbols might provide a better way forward for all.

The debate should be viewed in context with other parts of the United Kingdom. The Scots manage well with Flower of Scotland and the Welsh are renowned for singing Land of Our Fathers. Surely it is not beyond the creativity of song-writers here to create an equally stirring cultural icon for all sides of the divide.

Our own Phil Coulter succeeded with Ireland's Call in rugby, despite some prevailing narrow-mindedness in the Republic, and the world will not end if a similar way forward can be found for soccer north of the border.

The success of the Northern Ireland team will be measured on the field, and not by what is sung or not sung before the kick-off. This is a time for grown-up politics on many issues in Northern Ireland, and the IFA would do well to consider giving a mature lead on the anthem issue.

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