| 15.8°C Dublin

No place on the field of play for FAI armband gesture

The decision to commemorate the Loughinisland massacre on the pitch is divisive, writes Louis Jacob

It's taken me a while to get my head around the FAI's announcement that the Irish team will wear black armbands against Italy next month to commemorate the Loughinisland massacre in 1994, when six people were shot dead in a bar where they were watching the Ireland v Italy US World Cup game on TV.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who was taken aback. I know that many will welcome it as a 'poignant gesture' and that is entirely understandable. What happened on that June 18, remains one of the most horrific atrocities in Irish history. And, of course, it should never be forgotten.

But even though I know how popular this gesture will be with a large section of the Irish public, to me it smells like cheap tokenism on the part of the FAI.

I've never really bought into this armband-wearing thing in the first place. There's something distinctly Premier League chic about it. It's almost glib, and in this case appears to be entirely out of left field.

But what's worse is that no matter how much you feel for the families of the victims and no matter which way you look at it, the wearing of the black armband brings with it distinct political undertones... undertones which have no place at a major sporting event.

Anyone who believes otherwise should take a long, hard look at the following statement, released by Niall Murphy, solicitor for relatives of the victims of Loughinisland: "We would like to thank the FAI and Uefa for their assistance in providing a forum to recall the awful event that took place on that fateful day when Ireland played Italy."

The word that alarms me in that sentence is 'forum' because a forum is a place where things are discussed. Surely, if it's a forum they are looking for, then the nature of this gesture should be considered as entirely political.

The FAI should really have thought about it and decided that sometimes enough is enough. We've waited 10 years to get to a major international football tournament. In the meantime, we've had tsunamis, terror attacks, the war in Iraq, and now one of the most crippling recessions in the history of our State. It's been a pretty miserable decade.

Now something that is supposed to be removed from all that comes along, a welcome distraction, a time to 'forget', yes 'forget' just for a little while that we live in an evil world where very bad things happen to innocent people.

There's more to this.

Has the FAI forgotten what country we are playing in? The Poles could wear black armbands 365 days of the year. They could wear them in the name of mass genocide. So, why don't they do it? It's not because they have forgotten, far from it. It's because they know that there is a time and a place for things.

On Thursday, FAI chief executive John Delaney stated: "I would like to thank Uefa for assisting us in commemorating this atrocity and take the opportunity to remember all those who lost their lives in the Troubles." I wonder if the victims of Omagh and London and all the other places where innocent people lost their lives will buy this statement? I seriously doubt it.

The FAI points to the poignancy of the fact that Loughinisland occurred on the same date in 1994 when Ireland were playing Italy, and in fairness there is something to this. It is poignant but it still doesn't belong on the field of play.

But the main reason why this gesture should never have been conceived in the first place is this. If you go on the blogs and check out reaction to it, you will find it to be entirely divisive. You don't have to take my word for it. You can check it out for yourselves.

The FAI should ask themselves if 'divisive' is really the business they want to be in.

Sunday Independent