It doesn’t take a lot for Conor McGregor to garner publicity, and this week he was in the news once again. This time it wasn’t for his sporting achievements, or even something he said that was detrimental toward Jose Aldo, his opponent at UFC 194.
No, this time it was political and it had absolutely nothing to do with MMA. Several major UK and Ireland news publications ran a story about McGregor this week after he was first criticised by Irish fans for wearing a poppy. He then proceeded to dig an even deeper hole for himself by retaliating with the following comment posted on his Facebook account:
“I know where my allegiance lies and what I do for my country.
I don’t need a stupid little flower with 100 different meanings to tell me if I do or do not represent my country.
Check the facts of its original meaning.
ALL soldiers. ALL wars.
I have the blood of many nations on my gloves. Fought and beat on the world stage.
You have a pint in your hand and a Celtic jersey on in your local. F*** you and the Queen.”
You can’t write “F*** the Queen” and not expect a backlash from UK fans. So, in the space of a few hours, McGregor had managed to aggravate both sides of the fence. Even by his own controversial standards, that is some achievement. I’ll skip past the “blood of many nations on my gloves” comment.
Allow me to provide a quick overview to give you some idea of what all the fuss is about.
A poppy was first used by the USA as a symbol of remembrance to commemorate the loss of American soldiers in World War I. Over the years many British Commonwealth nations started to use it for the exact same reason, including soldiers killed in Ireland during the troubles. In the last few years wearing a poppy has grown significantly in popularity after recent losses of life in high-profile conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the UK it’s now considered extremely disrespectful when a public figure or celebrity refuses to wear one. Anyone who doesn’t, whatever their personal beliefs, is often lambasted on Social Media to the point they become figures of hate. One such individual is James McClean. For those who don’t know of him, he’s an Irish football (soccer) player who was born in Northern Ireland, but represents the Republic. His club West Bromwich Albion play in the English Premier League. Every year around this time, soccer clubs in the UK wear a poppy on their shirt during matches as a mark of respect. McClean refuses to wear it as his own mark of respect for the 14 civilian protesters killed by British soldiers in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1972, now largely referred to as “Bloody Sunday.”
Sport, politics, and religion should never mix, but sadly they do. Scottish clubs Celtic and Rangers are huge teams in the UK. Glasgow Celtic FC are predominantly supported by those of Catholic faith, while Rangers are supported by those of Protestant faith. McGregor mentioned Celtic in his Facebook statement because the club has thousands of fans based in the Republic of Ireland. Such fans choose to support either club based on where they come from and what their religion is. His comment was meant to insult those who display their patriotism by what football club they support, but yet do nothing more to show their allegiance to Ireland.
His subsequent “F*** the Queen” comment was his way of reaffirming his patriotism for Ireland. After all, large parts of the Republic hate the Queen and everything she stands for. However, McGregor also has thousands of UK based fans (me included) and they don’t take kindly to people who publicly criticise their Queen.
This is why stars of sport should steer clear of politics and religion for the sake of their sanity. You’re never going to keep everyone happy so it’s better to say nothing at all. In the case of McClean he doesn’t get the chance to avoid controversy, his opinion is forced into public domain. McGregor, on the other hand, had the opportunity to keep his head down and stay quiet on the subject. Instead, he did what he always does and opened his mouth before thinking first.
Moore’s Analysis: I knew I was on the other side of the political fence to McGregor before any of this happened. It didn’t stop me going to see him fight in Stockholm, Dublin, and Las Vegas, and it won’t stop me now. I’ll continue to support him based on his exceptional skill inside the Octagon. I don’t care about his background. However, judging by the Twitter backlash this week, it seems as though I’m one of the few not to change my opinion. Jose Aldo just gained a lot of new fans ahead of their UFC Featherweight Championship showdown in Las Vegas.