I have been left somewhat dismayed by the recent endorsement of a political candidate, for the forthcoming general election, by Northern Ireland Football League chairman, and Irish Football Association board member, Gerard Lawlor.
In a short video, posted by the north Belfast branch of a political party, Mr Lawlor is seen endorsing a divisive candidate who is representative of only one section of the community. Such an endorsement would appear to be directly at odds with the offices Mr Lawlor holds at both the NIFL and IFA.
Over the past number of years the IFA, and Irish League as a whole, has made great strides to promote ‘football for all’ and eradicate the blight that is sectarianism from the local game.
The success of this was quite obvious last summer when we watched an inclusive national side competing at the European Championships. Indeed this was a team that captured the imagination of the nation and received widespread support from the whole community.
However, political endorsements like Mr Lawlor’s seem counterproductive to the apolitical footballing mantra the local game promotes. Indeed publicity stunts like this only creates further division amongst the footballing community.
While I would never deny anyone the right to hold their own political opinions and allegiances, I have to question the compatibility of such a public endorsement, given both the NIFL and IFA go to great lengths to keep politics and football separate.
It is probable that Mr Lawlor will state he provided such an endorsement in a personal capacity. Notwithstanding, it is clear that the political party sought such an endorsement because he is a prominent figure in the local north Belfast area.
Such prominence has been gained through his involvement in local football. By extension of this his position as chairman and board member should therefore be brought under scrutiny.
After all how can an individual who has endorsed a divisive political party continue to be a figurehead for inclusive inter-community good relations?
I would call on both the NIFL and IFA to clarify the tenability of Mr Lawlor’s position within their respective organisations. Such political broadcasts do nothing to build bridges between communities in this country, or further the successful ‘football for all’ initiative the IFA has received international recognition for.
Is it too much to ask that those we entrust, as faithful Irish League and national team supporters, to run our local game act with some self-restraint and leave their political beliefs at the side-line? We can but dare to dream.
William Singleton, Belfast