Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Anthem row does nobody any favours

Editor's Viewpoint

If there is one thing in Northern Ireland that we are world leaders in, it is in taking offence. It is accepted that this is a divided society, but that should not mean that something cherished by one community must automatically cause offence to the other community.

Take Saturday's Irish Cup final. For both clubs it was the opportunity to win this major trophy for the first time in many years. Nothing should have deflected either team from performing at their optimum on this occasion.

For the fans it was the chance to cheer on their heroes, to see another trophy lodged in the trophy cabinet and to gain bragging rights as Irish Cup winners.

Yet even before a ball was kicked there was controversy. Cliftonville, whose support base is largely drawn from nationalist areas of north and west Belfast, asked the Irish Football Association not to play God Save the Queen before the match.

It can be argued that God Save the Queen is the anthem of the UK as a whole and not just of this particular region. Scotland and Wales for example manage to find alternative anthems to welcome their sporting teams onto the pitch.

There is an equally valid argument that God Save the Queen is traditionally played before big football occasions here and that that tradition should be recognised. If Cliftonville wanted it changed, surely their objection should have been lodged earlier.

Yet the IFA has encouraged Cliftonville's objection by dropping the anthem on the last two occasions the club reached the Irish Cup final. On this occasion it rejected Cliftonville's plea, but without a convincing answer. The decision-making process should be more transparent. The central point remains that the decision to play the anthem should have been respected. Instead, Cliftonville players bowed their heads and supporters jeered. That was wrong.

Both clubs draw their players from both sides of the community. They may well have different personal attitudes to the anthem, but it should never come down to a situation where they could be pitted against each other on cultural identity grounds.

Irish rugby tackled the problem by commissioning a neutral anthem which would be played alongside the Irish national anthem at international games. Boxing uses Danny Boy as its anthem at the Commonwealth Games.

Like boxing, other sports should be mature enough to pick the right fights.

Belfast Telegraph

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