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Politics 'mustn't interfere with sport'


Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy

Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy

Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy

Sport must not be tarnished by sectarian rows over flags and anthems, nationalist and unionist politicians have said.

Results from the Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk poll yesterday showed a majority of people favoured a new Northern Ireland anthem and flag, provided it was only used at sporting events.

More than 1,000 people were asked whether they would like a new Northern Ireland anthem and whether there should be a new flag for sporting events and civic events.

SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood was adamant politicians should not interfere in sporting decisions. And he said his approach to flags over civic buildings was "all or nothing".

"It's best left with those sporting organisations to work out what the best way forward is as long as it is done in a way which is representative," he said.

"A lot of work has been going on in the past few years with sports organisations here and a lot of good work. They're leading the way rather than politicians and that is not a bad way to keep it."

Mr Eastwood said his party's stance was that either both the British and Irish flag be flown on civic buildings, neither, or a neutral emblem.

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Earlier this year, Olympic bronze medallist and double Commonwealth boxing champion Paddy Barnes rallied behind calls for a new Northern Ireland flag.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers, a lifelong football fan and former director of Glentoran, said sports stars should not involve themselves in rows over emblems or anthems.

"I don't feel we need a new flag," he said.

"We are part of the UK and share the national anthem, God Save the Queen.

"A number of people in various sports have raised this issue over the years and that causes division. If I'm in Dublin or another country, I will stand for that anthem and honour that country.

"People in sport should look after sport and not get involved in flags and emblems."

The question about an anthem, which didn't specify where it should be used, was backed by 57.1% when don't knows were eliminated.

By the same measure, 53.25% wanted a new flag for sporting events, though the figure fell to 40.4% when they were asked if the flag would be used at civic events.

People who told us they were Protestants were most strongly opposed, and Catholics were most supportive of change.

Neutral anthem Ireland's Call is currently played before international rugby, cricket and hockey matches involving players from both sides of the border.

For other events where Northern Ireland competes individually, The Londonderry Air is often used as a neutral anthem.

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, the past and flags last year.

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