Mary Lou McDonald criticises Robbie Keane for continuing to manage Israeli club

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has criticised former Irish soccer international Robbie Keane for continuing in his management role at an Israeli club.

Ms McDonald said she believed the former Spurs and Liverpool striker had not made the right decision to continue coaching Israeli top flight side Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“No, I don’t think he has and I know some people say sport and politics shouldn’t mix…I think sport should be a force for good, for human capacity and human excellence and enjoyment and participation,” she said.

“I have a real problem with sport when it is under the remit of an apartheid regime and where genocide is being committed.”

At least 20,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since Israel began bombing the enclave in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 attacks.

Robbie Keane has been appointed head coach of Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv (Simon Cooper/PA)
Robbie Keane was appointed head coach of Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv in June (Simon Cooper/PA)

The Sinn Féin leader told The Irish Examiner that many sportspeople in Ireland “have taken an incredibly firm stand on the Palestinian question” and she encouraged leaders in sport to “make the right calls and the right choices”.

Ms McDonald said Israel should “face consequences” for its actions in Gaza – characterised last month by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as “something approaching revenge”.

“Thousands of people have been slaughtered, thousands of children, whole families wiped out,” she said.

“Whole neighbourhoods razed to the ground and [Israeli premier Benjamin] Netanyahu doesn’t care who knows — he’s intent on literally levelling Gaza.”

Keane came in for criticism when he was appointed by Maccabi Tel Aviv in June, including from Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Bay South Chris Andrews.

“Very very disappointing that Irish football icon Robbie Keane would sign up with racist and apartheid Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv,” Mr Andrews wrote on X.

“Keane is in a position to set example and boycott apartheid but chose not to.”

Speaking at the time, Keane said: “I don’t want to get into politics. This is the last time I will say it. I’m here as a football man and someone that loves the game. I will certainly just focus on that but thanks for your question.”

Keane fled Israel to Greece following the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 but returned to a warm reception from Maccabi supporters last week after leading their team into the knockout stages of the Europa Conference League.