Paisley protests at rugby on a Sunday

The Rev Ian Paisley led a "Never on a Sunday" protest in Belfast yesterday as thousands of rugby fans attended Ulster's first-round European Cup match against Leicester.

The Democratic Unionist Party leader joined parishioners from the Mount Merrion Free Presbyterian Church, close to the ground in Ravenhill, south Belfast, who are opposed to games being played on the Sabbath.

It was Ulster's first Sunday match and Mr Paisley joined about 40 people to sing hymns and hand out leaflets opposing the game. Some 12,000 fans attended the match,drawn by the prospect of watching some of England's World Cup players.

Fans said the Free Presbyterians had a right to protest but it should be a personal choice whether to go to a match on a Sunday.

Parishioners remain opposed to Sunday sport despite efforts by Ulster rugby officials to minimise disruption. The morals committee of the Free Presbyterian Church criticised the rugby authorities, the tournament sponsors Heineken and Sky television for "showing no regard to the Sabbath Day and little respect for worshippers in the immediate area of the ground". The organisers of the European Cup said they will give "careful consideration" to the timing of future Ulster matches.

Ulster won the match 33-0, taking them from the bottom to the top of group one.

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