Stormont

As I mentioned a couple days ago, I found myself on the Cricket Ireland Facebook page. I had “liked” their update in my newsfeed about the upcoming Ireland v Pakistan ODIs this summer and also made a snide comment about rain and wanted to go see if anyone had, officially or unofficially, replied.

That is when I noticed that they had less than 9,000 Facebook likes and the rest was history.

But I also noticed that Cricket Ireland, officially, replied to my snark with an upbeat and jokey comment about the forecast for this summer, and then further down I noticed a couple people complaining about the as yet to be determined location of the two matches.

One commenter in particular was hoping that both matches would not be at Stormont in Belfast because the ground was “unwelcoming” – he was then accused of bringing politics into sport, and round and round they went.

An example, from Facebook user Jeremy Martin:

“Owen Stornmont is no more unwelcoming thatn Clontarf ? Yer just a sectarian and bised prcik who wants eevry game played in Dublin it’s an all Ireland team and there are more players form the North in it that the South !”

(Too many sics to mention. Trust me it’s verbatim.)

It is sad that after all these years of peace, something as trivial as the location of a cricket match can still unearth the sectarian issues that killed 3,500 people between 1969 and 2001. Or, more correctly, unearth the post-sectarian issues of constantly accusing others of being sectarian.

But, then again, to say that the Troubles are over is folly. Just this last November, for instance, a Northern Ireland prison guard, and a member of the Orange Order, was killed in a drive-by shooting by members of an IRA splinter group.

And just last week there were violent protests in Belfast over the Stormont government’s decision to no longer fly the union flag.

I guess I should really not be surprised that it is going to matter to people where cricket matches are played.

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Here’s the thing: There are two ODI grounds in Ireland: one in Belfast, and one in Dublin. The former holds 6,000, the latter 3,200. Neither has floodlights. They are a little over 100 miles apart – about a two hour drive. Logistically, and just speaking geographically, and not being at all sectarian, it would make sense to have one match at Stormont and one match at Clontarf – one in the north and one in the south – to ensure that fans throughout the country who want to attend at least one match can do so without driving 100 miles.

Though from what I have read, cricket is mildly more popular in Northern Ireland than in Ireland proper, and Stormont has double the capacity, and so in the interest of simple dollars and sense, it might make sense for Cricket Ireland to play both matches in Belfast.

Then again, there are 5,700 Pakistanis in Ireland – and giving them easy access to both matches has to be a priority, as well.

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It’s a complicated issue, surely, one that involves not just age old sectarian divides but the age old problem of money as well: Cricket Ireland is struggling for legitimacy and they need to fill their coffers just as much as they need to field a competitive team if they want to eventually be promoted to full Test status.

At the end of the day, they need to put one match in Dublin and one match in Belfast. It’s the right thing to do. Putting both matches in Belfast, though maybe the financially viable decision, might unintentionally and unnecessarily deepen the divide between Southern fans and Northern fans, which would not serve Cricket Ireland’s attempts at legitimacy, nor would it serve the ongoing peace process.

My two cents on a complicated issue.

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I realize I am making a big deal out of a couple of comments on Facebook, and I realize that the violence in Northern Ireland pales in comparison to the violence seen in other cricket playing nations, but I still find it fascinating how cricket and history march alongside each other, as they do in this case, and it is something I will continue to write about.

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