Unionist politicians have slammed Sinn Fein over its call for the Northern Ireland football team to cancel an international friendly against Israel later this year.
After meeting with Irish Football Association (IFA) officials yesterday, the party’s Culture, Arts and Sport spokesperson, Sinéad Ennis, called for the game in Belfast on September 11 to be cancelled.
“I am calling on the IFA to cancel this match and send out a strong signal that the slaughter of Palestinians in the open-air prison which is Gaza, is completely unacceptable,” the South Down MLA said.
Her call came the day after Argentina announced they would not be playing Israel in a World Cup warm-up match in Jerusalem this Saturday, following pressure from Palestinian football officials and campaign groups.
Reacting to the Sinn Fein representative’s comments, East Londonderry MP and Northern Ireland football fan Gregory Campbell said: “This is just the latest in a whole series of anti-Israeli statements that Sinn Fein have put out, and the fact that they are now taking this into the football world is regrettable but not surprising.”
Mr Campbell, who hopes to attend the game, said it was “wrong” for the party to be politicising a football match.
His party colleague, North Antrim MLA and Northern Ireland season ticket holder Paul Frew, added: “I love the Northern Ireland games, and for anyone to politicise it in this way is really bad form, horrendous actually.
“Football breaks down barriers, it brings people together. There is no reason why we shouldn’t play this game.
“The Israeli football team and their association will be concentrating on football and sport, not politics or the security situation within their country.
“This is just another way of Sinn Fein agitating and dividing this country and the people within it.”
The IFA said it “has no intention of cancelling” the international friendly.
The Chairman of the Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs, Gary McAllister said there is no place for politics in football, and that “we in Northern Ireland appreciate more than most that politics and sport don’t mix well.”
Following Sinn Fein’s call for the friendly international to be cancelled, Mr McAllister said: “As a supporters’ organisation, we have consistently encouraged fans to leave their political views outside the stadium and to focus on supporting our national team. We maintain that viewpoint.
“We look forward to welcoming the Israeli team and fans to Belfast in September and reciprocating the extremely friendly welcome we received in Tel Aviv during the last meeting of our teams.”