Leading article: Ireland's futile stand against ethnic terror

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The Independent Culture
THE EUROPEAN, American and Russian envoys have devised a peace plan for Kosovo which they are taking to Belgrade. But this hopeful sign comes too late to save the Irish government from the embarrassment of their unwise decision to stop Yugoslav footballers entering their country to play a European Championship qualifying match on Saturday.

UEFA, the sport's umbrella body in Europe, has argued from the beginning that Ireland should stick to the rules requiring UN sanction for any cancellation. There being no such sanction, Ireland should have allowed the match to be played.

The UN appears in UEFA's rule book because international sport has famously been harnessed to political ends. The Olympic Games have suffered many walkouts and stunts. The boycott of South African sport played a key role in bringing about the end of apartheid. But even in this age of professional sport, when the original ideals of peaceful fair play are sometimes obscured by the heat of competition, sporting boycotts should be used sparingly.

Ireland is at peace with Yugoslavia. It bears no responsibility for Nato's bombing. Nato has made it clear that its quarrel is not with the civilian population of Yugoslavia. There have been civilian casualties caused by Nato's attacks, but it is not the Alliance's strategy to bomb the Yugoslav people into surrender. The atrocities in Kosovo are not being committed by the Yugoslav people as such, but by the Milosevic regime. His army - which is haemorrhaging its conscript soldiers - should not be identified with the Yugoslav people.

Ireland's desire to make a stand against ethnic terror is laudable, but preventing this particular football match from being played is not the way to do it.