GAA must boot racism off the pitch
Ethnic and cultural abuse must be made a red-card offence
It would be nice to believe that the launch of a new educational resource by the anti-racism in sport organisation, Show Racism the Red Card (SRTRC ), in Croke Park tomorrow was largely a precautionary initiative.
This brings leading figures from rugby, soccer and Gaelic games together to promote a strong unified message that abuse in sport, and racial abuse in particular, is intolerable.
For years, the Gaelic Players’ Association, representing county GAA players, has supported the excellent promotional work of SRTRC, using ambassadors like Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and GPA chairman Donal Óg Cusack. For those of us involved in Gaelic games, there was always a sense that racial abuse was the scourge of “other” sports.
However, after a number of recent, albeit isolated, incidents we know that this, quite frankly, is not the case. We cannot ignore the fact that players have been, and are being, racially abused.
A string of unsavoury allegations coming to light about incidents of abuse on and off the GAA field over the past 10 days has sharpened the focus. These incidents have also raised an awkward question: what is the difference between racial abuse and general abuse?
This is where we can take a definitive stand in our games. “Verbals” in contact sports such as hurling and Gaelic football are somewhat inevitable, particularly now at county level where incidents of on-field violence have almost disappeared. However, we have to question our tolerance of this behaviour and the obvious lack of sanctions.
Sledging (the practice of attempting to undermine the concentration, confidence or self-esteem of opponents by verbally abusing or taunting them during a match) has sadly become commonplace on the field of play. The intention is to upset opponents or to exact retribution, but it is difficult for a referee to act to punish the culprits. If players were faced with a serious sanction, including expulsion from the field, it might change attitudes.
The GPA has called for racial abuse, where witnessed on the field, to become a red-card offence.
Stiff sanctions alone are not enough. Education in matters of abuse and racial abuse in particular is essential. It is the duty of all relevant organisations, the GPA included, to help in this process by working with organisations such as SRTRC and by regular communication with their members.
It was the fortitude of players such as Wexford star Lee Chin and Crossmaglen’s Aaron Cunningham which brought this specific issue to light in the GAA. We owe these men a deep debt of gratitude for having the courage of their convictions. They have now provided us with an ideal opportunity to show real leadership by acting before any worrying trends develop.
It has been reassuring to see how emphatically the GAA at national and local level has dealt with recent incidents. By now endorsing formally the work of groups like SRTRC, the association has taken another significant step in arming itself against any potential for racial abuse to take hold in our games.
In the GPA, we believe sport and physical activity have a positive life-enhancing role in our society. We are undertaking work which we hope will highlight the need to strengthen sport in society and particularly within education.
We must guard against complacency within our games, though, and within sport in general. The integrity and good reputation of sport has many risk factors and racial abuse is up there with doping, match-fixing, violence and so on. However, can we honestly say we are as vehemently opposed to racial abuse as the other evils in our sports?
The GAA prides itself on being inclusive in a multicultural society, but it will not take much to deter non-Irish nationals from becoming involved in the games. Isolated as the incidents may be, the damage can be far-reaching.
One of those messages which must be delivered is that there can be no hiding place for players or supporters who racially abuse another person. Social media, often greeted with great trepidation by organisations, has ironically served to expedite action in the issue of abuse.
Consequences of racism
It is particularly important that young players are educated as to the causes and consequences of racism. Powerful ambassadors like Lee Chin, a wonderful dual exponent of hurling and football, deserve our full support for showing such inspirational leadership.
Let’s hope that, in due course, Lee’s prowess as a GAA athlete on the field of play once again becomes the focus of his contribution rather than the abuse he has suffered.
That is the challenge. Tomorrow is a chance for Irish sport and society to renew its efforts to face that challenge.
Dessie Farrell is c hief executive officer of the Gaelic Players’ Association