Mark Ward, a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála in Ireland's parliament, accused Israel of "sports washing" after Maccabi Tel Aviv hired former Irish soccer player Robbie Keane as head coach this week.
Keane, who retired in 2016, will serve as Maccabi Tel Aviv FC's new head coach for two years and is set to arrive in Israel soon to begin preparations.
During his career as a player, Keane scored more than 300 goals for the clubs he played for including Tottenham Hotspur, Leeds United, Liverpool, Coventry City, West Ham, Aston Villa as well as the Republic of Ireland where he is the most capped player and top goal scorer. Keane was appointed as first-team coach at Leeds United towards the end of last season and has previously been an assistant at both Middlesbrough and the Republic of Ireland National Team.
Robbie Keane’s decision to manage Maccabi Tel Aviv is sport washing by Israel’s apartheid regime. I’d ask him to reconsider his decision and join the Irish people and @CelticFC supporters in their solidarity for Palestine. #Palestine @PACBI @IrePalestine @Susanrosepower pic.twitter.com/1uufV49Izi— Mark Ward T.D. (@Wardy1916) June 28, 2023
"It was deeply disappointing to see former Irish international soccer player Robbie Keane go to manage Maccabi Tel Aviv," said Ward in response to Keane's hire. "My concern is that this move is another attempt at sports washing. When people of the stature of Robbie Keane ply trade in Israel, it is an attempt to gloss over and legitimize the apartheid regime."
"Robbie said in [an] interview that he was going to Israel for sporting reasons. This is no consolation to the family of Omar Abu, a [soccer player] for Turmus Aya, who was killed only last [week].
MP calls for match between Irish, Palestinian soccer teams
Ward additionally called for a friendly soccer match between Ireland and the Palestinians.
"Given the historical connection between Ireland and Palestine, this would be a wonderful show of solidarity. What would make it even better would be if it was an all-Ireland soccer team that took part in this match."
Ward noted that Ireland was the first country to host a soccer match against Germany after World War II in 1951.
"We were world leaders then and we could become world leaders again and offer the olive branch to the Palestinian people."
Joshua Halickman contributed to this report.