GAA promise swift action if racial abuse claim proved
The unanimous condemnation of the alleged racial abuse that marred Sunday’s Ulster club football final has been followed by the promise of swift disciplinary action.
Among those adding their voices to the condemnation was the father of Aaron Cunningham, the Crossmaglen player who claims to have endured repeated racial abuse from at least two Kilcoo opponents during Sunday’s victory in Armagh.
Joey Cunningham was a well-known footballer with Armagh and Crossmaglen during the 1980s, one of the first black intercounty players, and also played Irish League football for Portadown in the early 1990s. He said he too often endured similar racial abuse during his own football days.
“It’s really, really hard to speak about as a father, when you hear something like that has happened to your son,” Cunningham told BBC Northern Ireland. “I thought I had taken enough of that in my lifetime of playing football.
“But it seems like anything goes and it’s still out there, which is sad. I’m actually more shocked now than I’ve probably ever been at any stage in my playing career.
“In the Irish League, every single week I got it, but to be honest, it didn’t bother me one single bit. I just played my football and I tried to answer them on the pitch and I think most times I did that.
“Life has just moved on and in Gaelic football, you just don’t expect this, you really don’t, because everybody knows everybody and everybody has a level of respect for each other.
“Unfortunately for the 99 per cent of good people who support football and play football, you’re always going to get that minority who just don’t think. I’m very proud he held his head and that he didn’t let himself down. He stayed on the field he didn’t do anything silly which is what the other team were probably hoping for.”
The Ulster Council meet this evening to begin their investigation into Cunningham’s claims, and Ulster Council president Aogán Ó Fearghail has made it clear any player found guilty of racism will face severe penalties:
“We’re going to establish a small group to investigate what has happened as per our rules and our inquiry will be swift.
“It is not something we would tolerate at any level. One case of alleged racism is far too many. We spend a lot of time, particularly in Ulster, working with communities that would not have been part of the GAA. We’re not going to allow any allegations of racism damage that.
“And the sanctions are very clear. Rule 1 states very clearly that we are anti-sectarian, anti-racism. If there is anybody found to be in breach of that then they will be found to have discredited the association. The rule for that is very clear also – a minimum of eight weeks and a maximum of a lifetime ban. If proven guilty certainly severe penalties would be applied.”
Kilcoo have also promised to “cooperate fully” with the investigation, admitting too that they were “shocked and saddened” by the allegations.
Secretary Séamas Ó hAnluain issued the following statement: “Kilcoo GAC is an all inclusive club which prides itself in appealing to all sections of our community, and is shocked and saddened to hear of any allegations of racial abuse following the Ulster Club Final. We as a club condemn abuse from whatever quarter and shall cooperate fully with any investigation instigated by Ulster Council.”
Also expressing disappointment was international anti-racist charity Show Racism the Red Card, who called on the GAA to make any such racial incidents a red card offence.
Gaelic Players Association CEO’ Dessie Farrell agreed greater efforts must be made to rid the game of such incidents: “We know that there can be no tolerance for racism within our games but there is an onus on everyone involved to be active in preventing abuse through education.”