In West Belfast, the historical republican stronghold in the city of the North of Ireland, took place from the 7th to the 9th of August the ninth championship against racism, fascism and anti-imperialism Anti-Racism World Cup, with the presence of teams representing places like Germany, Scotland, Italy, Ireland, England or Palestine, besides fan groups, political refugees and ethnic minorities settled down in the area. All of it with the priceless collaboration of Donegal Celtic FC, the natural heir of the legendary and sadly extinct Belfast Celtic FC, which we already talked about in this blogzine (link 1, link 2, link 3). To discuss about this we virtually fly there to chat with the event’s organizers.
- First of all, we’d like to know a bit more about the event’s history. How did it come up? Which difficulties did you have to face in such a peculiar place like Belfast?
Around ten years ago a few of us who had been to the Mondiali in Italy and the St Pauli Anti-ra tournament began to discuss the possibilities of doing our own tournament and what would be the purpose of such a tournament etc etc. We were already involved in the republican ex-prisoners educational project An Glór Gafa/The Captive Voice, publishing left republican classic literature, holding debates and discussions etc. An Glór Gafa/The Captive Voice then took the initiative up, hosting the first Anti-Racism World Cup in Belfast in 2007. From the beginning we were very clear that it was to be political not moral and had to be completely upfront and unashamed of our politics and background. We resolved to be an Anti-Racist, Anti-fascist, anti-imperialist initiative laying the blame for racism, fascism and imperialism clearly at the door of capitalism. Anti-racism that spoke blandly about “celebrating diversity” or that implied that racism was somehow unpolitical was not for us, we were to be clear that racism was a tool to divide the working class and to direct blame for the problems of society onto the most vulnerable. Politics had to be fought with politics. From the begining we have used the example of the volunteers of the international brigades as a central theme of our events.
Belfast is a very politicised place and our message found a ready audience amongst working class republican community. In the pro-imperialist loyalist parts of the city it is impossible for us to work without making political compromises that would make the project pointless. Unfortunately those are the areas where the fascists organise, where racist attacks occur regularely etc
- The tournament has taken place at Donegal Celtic’s ground. To what extent is the club involved? How’s been their help to celebrate an event that implies that much organization?
The club have been very supportive from the beginning. They are a community club and our project is very much of that community. They help us with organising events to bring in the community such as childrens activities etc. They also offer us any and all assistance in running the event. They have never sought to reduce the political content in any way.
- Is there any relation between Donegal Celtic and the Belfast Celtic Society?
The Belfast Celtic Society are separate though they are one of our sponsors, helping us financially, opening their museum to our visitors etc. Some of their committee also sit on our committee.
- Is Belfast Celtic remembered in town? Is there still a sadness in the heart of the republican football community?
Yes Belfast Celtic is sorely missed and well remembered. The clubs such as Donegal Celtic and Cliftonville have not fully taken its place.
- Which other activities have beed organized besides the football tournament?
Every year there is a programme of political discussions throughout the weekend, Palestinian speakers, Tamil speakers, Congolese speakers, historical talks on anti-fascist history in Ireland the international brigades etc. then there is music every night, walking tours, visits to republican museums and childrens events and activities. There is also a GAA event on the sunday to show that gaelic sports people also stand against racism and fascism.
- Being a non-profit championship organized by grass root citizens and activists, we guess it’ll imply a huge effort over the year. Is it worth it? Do you reap the fruits from that effort?
We think it has been a useful project , sharing experiences with international visitors and educating both activists and ordinary local people. We were determined it was not just for activists but part of the community. We were also determined it was not just political tourism, we wanted to learn from the visitors too. The photo attached is of a mural done by local kids about life locally and we are right in the centre, that is a powerful thing.
- The Palestine players had problems to fly to Belfast. What kind of obstacles did the Israeli government put?
Firstly they only stamp the visas and return passports the day before they had to travel so it made it difficult and expensive arranging transport. Secondly not all the players got their visas. In previous years they have been held up at crossings etc.
- Among the participants there are members of ethnic minorities settled down in Belfast. What’s their level of acceptance in the city? Is it easy their integration? How discrimation does affect them in such a divided place like the North of Ireland?
Life is harder for them in all areas of the city dealing with systemic racism but in the loyalist areas they are often attacked and have homes damaged etc. In Republican areas this would not be tolerated , that does not however mean that anti-social elements don’t make life unpleasant here too but its nowhere near as bad.
- What’s the organization’s evaluation after 9 years? Is there room for improvement and growth?
There is much room for improvement and growth if it can be achieved without watering down the politics! In general it has far surpassed our original hopes and continues to get better every year. The event continues to grow but we would have hoped to spawn more similar events and had more effect in building all year round structures to fight racism and fascism. One guy who recently moved to Australia set up an Australian version which was great to see. We also hope for more engagement from people and more new faces doing work but hey thats life!
- We’ve seen fans representing Celtic and Sankt Pauli among others. To what extent you think is important the implication of fans against racism and fascism? Do you think that UEFA and the rest of institutions, as most of the clubs, have failed and it’s now time for fans to take the lead?
Modern football cannot fight racism and fascism because it is big business, it is part of the system that uses racism(and fascism if its desperate) to hold on to its power. Anti-racism in EUFA is just a moral appeal to stop being “stupid” or “nasty” it can’t achieve anything and doesnt really want to. Anti-Racist Ultras and the new fan initiatives from St Pauli, FCUM, Brigada 1874 at Aston Villa, Green Brigade at Celtic etc are important to us because they are part of building a new football culture of the left.
- Honestly from the Basque Country we see with admiration the organization of this championship as well as the tournament between Sankt Pauli fans. How do you think something similar could happen in other places? Is it extrapolated or do you think certain ingredients must come together?
It could happen anywhere especially in areas with similar experiences such as the Basque Country. Many of us have known and have been impressed by HNT and others at clubs in the Basque region. If you want any advice just ask. Always remain part of the community though, bring in the children with fun events, bring in the parents with music etc. Have conviction in your politics, never put on a “liberal face” !
- Is it any relation between the tournament’s dates (August 7-9) and the marches organized on August 9 on the occasion of the anniversary of internment back in 1971 or is it just a coincidence?
We always do our tournament to co-incide with the peoples festival though they don’t help us with publicity but thats another story!. In fact it was a week later than usual this year and we kind of regret that as the football leagues all started early due to next years European Championship so some teams couldnt come this year.
- How’s the current situation of the league of the North of Ireland in terms of sectarianism? Is there any team -like Cliftonville- still suffering attacks as Belfast Celtic sadly did?
Sectarianiam is still an issue for all teams from nationalis/republican areas when they travel to loyalist areas. Linfield Glentoran etc are pretty bad and are linked with fascist groups C18 etc.
Tiocfaidh ár lá
* Thanks to John and Alabinbonban’s stringer in Ireland.