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This article examines the proposals of a ministerial advisory panel that was set up in 2000 to examine the problems confronting soccer in Northern Ireland, not least of which is that the game has been perceived to be administered by and for Ulster unionists. It is argued that although the panel made the case for a more inclusive soccer culture, which would be welcome to Irish nationalists, this advice is at odds with the central message of the Good Friday Agreement, the cornerstone of the peace process. Far from promoting a centrist political culture, the Agreement has actually increased polarization. Reflecting on wider debates on cultural diversity, the article argues that it is difficult to convince sports administrators to accept responsibility for promoting social inclusion in a political context in which difference is celebrated and sectarianism institutionalized.
The author is with the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Loughborough University, Leicestershire, LE11 3TU, UK.