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A Rugby Sideshow Blessed by the Pope

Rugby sin Fronteras (Rugby without Borders), an Argentina-based non-governmental organisation, is arranging a rugby football match, reportedly between Argentine and British veterans from the 1982 conflict, on Monday, 21 September at the Esher Rugby Football club in Hersham, Surrey (originally to be in Richmond but the venue had to be changed). The date was carefully chosen, not just because of the Rugby World Cup but also because the day is UN International Peace Day (first designated in 1981). The Pope blessed the ball (and received a pass) during a public walkabout in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday, 16 September when he posed with the group involved (see links below).

The group says that it is wholly non-political and seeks only to promote peace and reconciliation. However honourable and well-intentioned its aspirations may be, it is difficult for anyone supporting the Falkland Islanders’ right to self-determination not to see some political motivation in its activities. To involve the (Argentine-born) Pope who, as Archbishop and Cardinal in Buenos Aires, publicly supported the Argentine claim to the Falkland Islands betrays at least some political and promotional purpose. They aim too to produce a film of their campaign under the title: ‘El otro camino a las islas’ (Another way to the Islands). The title in itself suggests a political objective.

The Argentine Government may well claim that, if veterans of the 1982 conflict can be reconciled, the same should be possible at governmental level. The Falkland Islands Government has said on many occasions that it would like to renew co-operation in various areas of mutual interest, e.g. fisheries conservation. But the Argentine Government refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Falkland Islands Government and will not talk with them. Dialogue, they say, can only be with the UK Government and with the aim of an eventual transfer of sovereignty.

Even the call for peace has hidden import. If it means leaving the Falkland Islanders to get on with their lives without threat of Argentine sanction, intimidation or interference, then that would be welcome. But to the Argentine Government, it does not mean that. Everything has to advance their sovereignty claim.

All too often sporting endeavour can be tainted by politics but is this match really without a hidden agenda?

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