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Northern Ireland supporters slam plans for protests at game against Israel


Disappointed: Gary McAllister

Disappointed: Gary McAllister

Disappointed: Gary McAllister

Northern Ireland football fans have criticised plans for protests at next week's Windsor Park match against Israel.

Gary McAllister, chairman of the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters' Clubs, was responding to ongoing pressure on the Irish Football Association to cancel the friendly on Tuesday.

A number of groups, including Sinn Fein, have opposed the fixture over Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, with the party planning a rally on Saturday in Belfast.

Separately, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement - which urges people to shun Israeli products - is staging a protest at a McDonald's in west Belfast on Tuesday evening. The company is a commercial partner of the IFA.

More than 5,000 people have also signed a petition calling for the game to be called off.

But supporters' representative Mr McAllister said that political concerns should not be introduced to football.

He said: "We in Northern Ireland appreciate more than most that politics and sport don't mix well.

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"As a supporters' organisation, we have clearly and consistently encouraged fans to keep their political views and allegiances separate from their football and to focus on supporting our national team. This remains so. Sport has done so much to bring people together in Northern Ireland, it is disappointing that anyone should seek to cause controversy around a sporting event."

He added: "Northern Ireland fans will look forward to the match against Israel, in the same way that we would any other game."

Sinn Fein's South Down MLA Sinead Ennis says hosting the Israeli team was "the wrong decision".

She said: "Over recent weeks and months, many sporting, cultural and music figures have heeded calls from the BDS movement, not to perform in Israel."

Ms Ennis urged the IFA to send out a strong signal that the "slaughter of Palestinians" was "completely unacceptable" by cancelling the match.

The Northern Ireland Friends of Israel group said attempts to "politicise the game were sad" while the IFA has insisted that for it the fixture is just another game.

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