“The healing power of sport has always been an objective issue. Its ability to unite people is balanced by its capacity to divide. For every winner, there has to be a loser. One man's ecstasy is another man's agony. Yet, if ever there was an argument that sport can succeed where politicians, armies and even religions may fail, then the 14th Asian Cup provided a compelling case.”And so on and so on and so on. Yes, it was great to see the Iraqi football team beat the Saudis. And, yes, it was great to see those scenes on television this morning of the supporters cheering the victory in the streets of Baghdad. And, yes, it was made all that bit more special by the fact that so many supporters were killed in last week’s car bombing by the fascist insurgency following the semi final victory. But all that rubbish about sport uniting? Its just a bit mawkish.
Incidentally, the Iraqis should feel lucky, and I bet you never thought you’d hear that been said. Here in this part of the world we have never experienced any sort of sporting victory that has managed to unite people. Northern Gaelic football teams winning the All-Ireland? Nah. Northern Ireland reaching the World Cup quarter final? No. Ulster winning the European Cup in rugby? Certainly not. Antrim making the All-Ireland hurling final? Nope. To illustrate the depth of our sporting apartheid I can remember Gearóid O Cairealláin, supposedly a republican, writing in the now defunct Provo rag that was the Daily Ireland that he would rather see England win when they played Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualification match in Belfast two years ago (the English lost 1-0).
Congratulations Iraq. You done well. However, maybe before the qualifiers begin for the 2011 Asian Cup football’s governing bodies in the countries of this region could make another gesture to show that sport can indeed unite were politics too often divides: they can help to readmit Israel - currently playing their football in Europe due to boycott and ostracisation - to the Asian Football Confederation. Or maybe that’s just a crazy idea. Silly me.