Belfast Telegraph

Anger at anthem ban before Northern Ireland v Republic match

MP claims that decision could create precedent

By Eamon Sweeney

A decision not to fly flags or observe national anthems at a World Cup qualifier between the women's teams from Northern Ireland and the Republic may set an unwelcome sporting precedent, an MP has warned.

Normal footballing protocol was set aside on Tuesday night after "safety concerns" of an unspecified nature were cited by the Uefa delegate at the match, which took place at Mourneview Park in Lurgan.

However, it is believed the decision was taken after a threat was issued.

In a statement the Irish Footballing Association (IFA) said: "Following safety concerns raised ahead of the Fifa Women's World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland at Mourneview Park, it was agreed with the Uefa match delegate that neither national anthem would be played or flags be flown before the game."

However, East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell said: "I don't know why someone decided to do this. Was it a case that a threat was made by phone call? If that is the case then some individual could usurp future games by just picking up the phone. Hopefully the IFA will look at this and it will not create a precedent."

Both anthems were played when Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland last met in a men's international in Dublin in 2011. But, in the early 1990s only the anthem of the home country was played.

"At almost every international game I have been to, there has been respectful singing of the national anthems and also respect for flags," Mr Campbell said.

The IFA statement continued: "The Irish FA believes that the flag of both competing teams should be flown at a match venue and their anthems should be played before a game. While understanding the safety concerns behind the UEFA match delegate's decision, the association is disappointed that it was not possible for the normal pre-match protocols to be observed."

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) said they understood the decision was reached after information was received by the PSNI, the match venue and the IFA.

Grace Murray, captain of Newry City Ladies FC and who has played for the Republic of Ireland, said she was disgusted by the incident.

"There is no place in football for this. It should have been a proud moment for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. There are Catholics and Protestants on both teams," she said.

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