GAA considers how to tackle issue of racism on and off the pitch
GAELIC GAMES:Something must be wrong when the GAA is announcing its latest programme to tackle alcohol abuse and ends up confronting issues of racism – although plans to make such verbal abuse a red card offence may not be straightforward.
GAA president Liam O’Neill has declared his intention to bring a motion to next year’s Congress aimed at eradicating verbal taunting, racist or otherwise, while also admitting a gradual change in playing culture will be required.
“We’re going to take a calm look at this, for a couple of months, then take a motion to Congress that will bring about an end to this,” said O’Neill, at the launch of the GAA’s Off the Booze and On the Ball programme.
“If you’re not allowed to shout abuse at someone on the street, you shouldn’t be allowed to do it on the pitch. But it’s not just about the alleged incident last weekend. I’m more interested in cutting out abuse across the board.
“While it’s important . . . we’re taking a long run at this. We’re not trying to avoid racism, and even one incident is terrible. We’re not an abusive society, and our Gaelic games shouldn’t be abusive either. So we are taking it seriously, see a bigger chance to get the abuse issue handled, and we’re going to seize that opportunity.”
The Ulster Council agreed last night to investigate the allegations that marred their club football final on Sunday, after Crossmaglen player Aaron Cunningham claimed to have endured repeated racial abuse from at least two Kilcoo opponents: yet O’Neill is focusing on the wider issues, and suggests that stricter penalties may not be the only solution.
“I have no sympathy if somebody is found guilty and is given a punishment. I would prefer us to get our penalties right, to get these people off our fields. I think it’s probably enough to suspend people, but we might need them to go through an education programme before they are allowed back. We’re also looking at cutting down the number of players speaking to the referee. But you won’t do everything at one Congress, I have learnt that over the years.”
Also present at Croke Park for the new alcohol abuse programme was Wexford hurler Keith Rossiter, in action this weekend for Oulart-The-Ballagh in the Leinster club final, whose mother is of north African origin.
“When you’re an adult and you hit the field it’s all about a man’s game, and those who give the abuse, are they really worth it at the end of it? It’s about going out and playing a game, playing it right. The better team wins . . .
“It’s going to be a big call for the GAA. It’s going to be hard on referees as well to call it.
“But it’s there, it’s in the game, and it’s going to become more common with more mixed race families in Ireland. I’ve been called a couple of things over the years yeah, I won’t tell you lies, but I dealt with them myself.
“It’s also an education thing. Young lads in school these days, be it primary, be it secondary, they’re in school with Polish guys, Africans. They’re all mixing together now and they don’t see it as any different.
“Maybe in 10 or 15 years’ time, there won’t be a racist issue because they’re so used to each other. It’s probably only a couple of us in intercounty that have splashed through the different teams and maybe that’s why it’s being highlighted more at the minute.”