“It’s as if there’s an imaginary football wall with another stadium that side…”

Now here’s a wee counterintuitive feast on attitudes towards sport in Northern Ireland. I say counterintuitive only in the sense that it seems to run against what many would call ‘common knowledge’.

I think Chris is planning to share his own thoughts on the Social Exclusion and Sport in Northern Ireland report/summary from Ulster University, so I won’t seek to be comprehensive. But it’s worth noting two things.

Firstly that…

54 per cent of respondents supported an all-island soccer team. Some 70 per cent of the Catholic community were in favour, with 39 per cent of Protestants supportive of such change.

And secondly that…

Catholics were quite positively disposed towards the Northern Ireland team. More Catholics (71 per cent) than Protestants (65 per cent) felt that the Irish Football Association was taking active steps to welcome all traditions.

Two-thirds of Catholic respondents said they would like to see more Catholics supporting the team, while only a slightly higher proportion of Protestants (60 per cent) than Catholics (56 per cent) said they would be willing to attend Windsor Park if offered tickets.

One unionist friend I spoke to about the report suggested that it may be that sport engenders a positive, ‘what can we do to make things better’ attitude, whereas politicians are more likely to ask of any proposed changes: ‘what’s in it for us’?

As Niall Quinn observed on this matter back in 2005, it’s often the institutions themselves which block change rather than popular opinion…

…nobody looks at it from the other angle. Of the IFA and the FAI, half of them are going to lose their jobs so there’s fifty per cent already voting the other way. While the system is the way it is it won’t happen.

He went on to point out that change is likely to be an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary thing…

It’s as if there’s an imaginary football wall with another stadium that side and we’re playing this side. Maybe the more cross border games that are played the more we understand each other. That’s what happens in rugby. The teams from Ulster come down here and play club matches all the time. So they are shuffling and crossing all the time, whereas in football it’s only trickling at the moment.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty