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Irish soccer sabotaged

Sir -- Despite confirmation from Gaelic Athletic Association officials that Croke Park would be made available to host the Ireland v Brazil soccer friendly scheduled for March 2, the Football Association of Ireland has decided to stage the match in Arsenal's Emirates Stadium in London.

The decision to play what is effectively a home fixture in a foreign country when a stadium like Croke Park has been made available, raises serious questions. Already the FAI has distanced itself from this decision, claiming that the fixture was organised by the sports event promoters Kentaro.

The FAI has an obligation, both to its supporters and to Ireland, to ensure that its home matches are played in Ireland. In making its case to the GAA authorities for a relaxation of Rule 42 to allow 'foreign' games to be played in Croke Park, the FAI argued, rightly, that it would be unthinkable and immoral to force the Irish national team to play their home games abroad when a state-of-the-art stadium was lying idle at home.

When both Dalymount Park and Lansdowne Road were not in a position to comply with FIFA's strict technical and requisite safety standards, the FAI requested the GAA to make Croke Park available. The FAI claimed that the Irish team would have to travel to Britain to fulfil its home World Cup fixtures if Croke Park was not made available. In spite of opposition from many within the GAA, wiser counsel prevailed and Rule 42, the ban on foreign games, was suspended.

Despite decades of attracting huge attendances at international football fixtures, which in turn generated massive revenue for the FAI, nothing was done to secure a national stadium for Ireland's soccer team and supporters. Indeed, the same FAI stood by as Glenmalure Park in Milltown, home of famous 'Hoops', became victim to one of the greatest acts of sporting and social vandalism in Irish history. That such a stadium was allowed to be turned into a housing estate rendered the FAI social and sporting pygmies. I had the honour of seeing the likes of Paddy Coad, Liam Tuohy, Ronnie Nolan, Frank O'Neill and the great Mick Leech give exhibitions of football in Glenmalure Park, which would match those seen today at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge.

Over the years, the FAI has on many occasions acted against the interests of Irish soccer. To stage the Brazil match in England will be regarded as an act of national football sabotage. Irish supporters, and Irish soccer deserve better.

Tom Cooper.

Knocklyon, Dublin 16