Irish MP highlights 'sportswashing' concerns after Robbie Keane's Israel move

Irish MP highlights 'sportswashing' concerns after Robbie Keane's Israel move
4 min read
29 June, 2023
Pro-Palestine activists have slammed the appointment of Robbie Keane as coach of Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Robbie Keane is widely considered to be Ireland's greatest footballer [Getty]

pro-Palestine Irish MP has slammed the appointment of former Irish international Robbie Keane as manager of Israeli football club Maccabi Tel Aviv as "sportswashing".

Ireland's all-time top goal scorer landed his first coaching job this week, when it was announced he would take the reins at the Israeli Premier League side.

Palestine supporters in Ireland have called for a cultural boycott of Israel over its occupation of the West Bank and devastating siege on Gaza.

Mark Ward, a Sinn Fein Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin Mid-West, raised the issue in the the Dáil on Wednesday, saying Keane's signing for the club goes against the boycott calls, which include sports.

"I was deeply disappointed to see former Irish international soccer player Robbie Keane go to manage Maccabi Tel Aviv," he told the Irish parliament.

"My concern is that this move is another attempt at sportswashing. And when people of the stature of Robbie Keane ply trade in Israel, it is an attempt to gloss over and legitimise the apartheid regime."

He went on to mention the alleged murder of father-of-two and keen footballer Omar Qattin by Israeli settlers last month.

Irish academic Brendan Ciarán Browne was one of the first to condemn Keane's move to the Israeli club.

"Shame on Robbie Keane. You may shamelessly chase the NIS and break the call for #BDS. We stand in solidarity with those who dream of playing in freedom & mourn those who never got the chance to live, let alone play," he tweeted.

He named Ahmed Daraghma and Ayman al-Kurd, two prominent Palestinian footballers killed by Israeli forces.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) also called for Keane to change his mind.

"We urge former Irish footballer Robbie Keane not to accept the position of head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv in apartheid Israel," the PACBI said in a tweet.

"Just days ago, Israeli soldiers shot and killed yet another young Palestinian footballer, 24-year-old Omar Qatin, who was defending his village, Turmus Ayya, against gangs of armed Israeli settlers, supported by Israel’s far-right government, who were setting it aflame."

Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) said: "There is a Palestinian sporting boycott and call for the expulsion of the Israeli FA from FIFA and UEFA due to apartheid Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people, so it is deeply disappointing to see Robbie Keane go to manage Maccabi Tel Aviv. #BDS #FreePalestine."

Irish pro-Palestine activists also highlighted Israeli attacks that have killed or injured other Palestinian athletes. In 2014, Israeli forces even shelled a Gaza beach where four Palestinian children were playing football, killing them all.

ZazaFL wrote on Twitter: "Apartheid Israel has: murdered 4 boys playing football on a beach in Gaza, shot teenage footballers in the feet, murdered players, incarcerated players, made some amputees, bombed stadia, denied travel, stopped tournaments & Robbie Keane is going to manage Maccabi Tel Aviv. Shame."

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign encourages a cultural boycott of Israel by international artists, athletes and others until an independent Palestinian state is established.

Palestinian activists have called on the Orlando Pirates and Premier League side AFC Bournemouth to cancel friendlies with Maccabi Haifa planned for next month.

Robbie Keane is widely considered to be Ireland's most successful footballer, winning 146 caps and scoring 68 goals for the republic.

He was best-known in England for his two spells at Tottenham Hotspur, scoring 91 goals for the North London side.

The New Arab approached Robbie Keane's booking agent for comment but did not receive a response.