Belfast Telegraph

New era at Windsor a time to celebrate

Editor's Viewpoint

The Northern Ireland football team scored an important victory on Saturday over San Marino in their World Cup qualifier.

There was also a spectacular official opening of the new national stadium at Windsor Park, with a long list of sporting achievers and other Northern Ireland people who have achieved great success, and, crucially, women as well as men. The list ranged from Olympian Dame Mary Peters to actor Jimmy Nesbitt and broadcaster Eamonn Holmes.

Indeed, there are so many great achievers from Northern Ireland in sport and other disciplines that the list at Windsor Park could have been twice or three times as long.

The new arena is most impressive, and great credit is due to the IFA for playing its part in this achievement. Together with the welcome win for the Northern Ireland team, the pristine national stadium helps to increase the feel-good factor in the province.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way. Paralympian Jason Smyth has expressed anger that he was not included in the list of Northern Ireland "legends" and "greats" who paraded around the pitch.

The gist of his remarks seems to be that two Olympians who were chosen to take part - Bethany Firth and Kelly Gallagher - competed under the British flag, while he and Michael McKillop, who was also not invited, took part under the Irish flag.

It would be regrettable if the official opening of the stadium was to be marred by a war of words, and while Jason Smyth feels slighted, a tweet from deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness goes some way to suggesting that this was not the intention at all.

Mr McGuinness also suggested the need to move on "if we have any sense". That is the nub of the situation, namely the need for people from all sides to show good sense and mutual respect.

There would appear to have been no intention by the IFA to snub anyone. However, we have learned from hard and depressing experience in Northern Ireland that we can never be too careful with our words, invitations and symbolism.

Jason Smyth is a fine athlete who wanted to endorse the new stadium, and no offence was intended by the IFA. Indeed, it has offered to show him around the stadium and would be "delighted" to do so.

This is a time to move on, to look to the future, and to praise the success of all our athletes and achievers, whether they paraded at Windsor Park or not.

Belfast Telegraph

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