| 8.5°C Belfast

How sports stars from McGuigan and Barnes to McIlroy have struggled to find neutral ground with flags

Close

Paddy Barnes with his gold medal

Paddy Barnes with his gold medal

PA

Paddy Barnes with his gold medal

The challenge to come up with a new flag that would be acceptable to all was put to political leaders by US diplomat Richard Haass during talks on parades, flags and the past last year.

Finding agreement among politicians proved to be impossible. It has been almost as problematic for our sports stars.

In August Olympic bronze medallist and double Commonwealth boxing champion Paddy Barnes rallied behind calls for a new Northern Ireland flag.

Speaking after criticism over the use of the anthem of Danny Boy for Northern Ireland athletes at the Commonwealth Games, Barnes (below) said: "I think it's time we had a proper flag and a proper national anthem."

The same neutral song was famously sung before several of boxer Barry McGuigan's fights, by his father Pat.

McGuigan represented Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games at Edmonton 1978 and Ireland at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. McGuigan said he was backed by Protestants and Catholics because "(the) shadows ran deep. And my fights felt a little like sunshine. Both sides would say: 'Leave the fighting to McGuigan'".

"The fact that I wouldn't wear green, white and gold or put on a sign that said this is who I represent was powerful.

"It was a very mature and dangerous thing to do. I wouldn't choose sides."

Following Europe's Ryder Cup win over the USA, golf stars Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell posed with an Ulster flag. Earlier this year there was controversy when the Holywood star declared his intention to represent Ireland rather than Team GB at the next Olympics.

He had been expected to opt for the latter having declared in 2012 he "always felt more British than Irish".

"Golf, rugby, cricket, hockey; they all do Ireland as one. I am close to a lot of the Ulster (rugby) boys and all they want to do is get in the Ireland team," he said.

"They are very proud to pull on that green jersey, just as I am and will be."

The neutral Ireland's Call is played ahead of international rugby, cricket and hockey matches to promote inclusiveness among players and fans.

God Save The Queen is currently played before all Northern Ireland international football matches.

In 2011 former player Paul McVeigh said the IFA will never endear itself to young Catholic footballers until it ditches the anthem. Speaking after a number of players, including Londonderry's James McClean, opted for the Republic over Northern Ireland, McVeigh said: "Who are the people who make decisions at IFA level and can they really say that it is a good thing for football in Northern Ireland to have the English anthem played before games?

"About 50% of the people in Northern Ireland do not recognise it as their anthem and among that 50%, quality footballers will emerge. By the time they do come through, they most likely will have had their minds made up for them by the IFA."

Belfast Telegraph