GAA need to move fast and hard against racist abuse
Think of a 14-year old in a strange situation – not Cork but a world that however welcoming is full of people to whom he is aware he looks different – reduced to tears because his distinctiveness has been used against him.
What “edge” could possibly be worth that turmoil and personal devastation?
Here’s another and more welcome difference: increasingly, players are not content to let “what happens on the field stay on the field”.
Aaron Cunningham, whose dad Joey was one of the first black intercounty players and who is apparently the latest high-profile target of what he rightly termed a “disgusting” practice, came out angrily after Sunday’s Ulster club final against Kilcoo and bluntly alleged he had variously been called: “the n word” and “Paki”.
Lee Chin, the Wexford dual player of Malaysian extraction, also went public after being racially abused in a club match against Duffry Rovers, which earned two players eight-week suspensions.
“I’ve been putting up with this kind of abuse for my entire life,” he said. “Now at this stage, it feels like it is getting a bit more personal. It’s becoming more of an issue for me, and it’s not just me having to put up with this.
“I’ve been chatting with one of my soccer managers in Wexford. One of his under-age players was abused two years ago and the guy that abused him got a six-month ban and a red card in that game too. Handing out a yellow card and a two-month ban is too lenient in my opinion.”
His club Sarsfields will table a motion to next year’s annual congress to make racist abuse a red-card offence.
No one is likely to argue with that or with a minimum suspension of six months, as in soccer. Ideally, the GAA’s Central Council should co-sponsor the motion.
The problem as things stand is Gaelic games’ orthodox paired marking system frequently makes the target of verbal abuse also its exclusive audience. Chin was in a way fortunate to be able to secure vindication for what he had to endure.
As of now it’s not clear what headway the Ulster Council – despite its admirably swift response – can make in investigating the case when it could end up as one person’s word against another.
If there is substance to the Cunningham’s allegations – and for most, his reaction on the field and demeanour afterwards do promote that likelihood – a simple public admission, statement of regret and acceptance of punishment by those involved would do more than serve justice in the immediate instance.
Such a response would be a strikingly redemptive act: the GAA’s own miracle at Christmas.