All-Ireland football referee David Gough has been highly critical of the refusal of the GAA to permit Mayo footballers to wear rainbow-coloured numbers on their jerseys in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I think it’s an abhorrent decision by the GAA,” said Gough on RTÉ Radio 1′s ‘Saturday with Colm Ó Mongáin’, of the rejection of Mayo’s request, which was on the initiative of the county’s charity partner Mindspace Mayo.
He also described the association’s justification that whereas there was no problem with rainbow-coloured bootlaces or wristbands, which have been worn, the jersey was “sacrosanct” as “an unwise choice of words”.
“Precedent has been set before where we’ve had Dublin in the championship playing against Westmeath with Pieta House on their jerseys. We had Cork wearing jerseys in the national league for Mercy Hospital Foundation.
“We had Carlow wearing something for suicide awareness and even up in Derry, Joe Brolly’s Opt for Life campaign appeared on the jerseys in the championship back in 2013. So precedent has been set and it’s just strange to see that they’re singling out the LGBT community.”
When it was put to him that such initiatives had come from the sponsors and not the GAA, he queried how the association’s commercial partners viewed the decision.
“Speaking about sponsors, our national competitions are sponsored by eir, SuperValu, Bord Gáis, Centra and a lot of those organisations take part heavily in Dublin Pride events around the country.
“In fact AIB and Bord Gáis are two of the greatest supporters of Pride within Dublin and I’ve been part of the most recent SuperValu campaign so it would be interesting to see how the sponsors take this ban.”
“Bord Gáis have already gone rainbow inside in Croke Park on their sponsorship boards and we don’t see any issue around that. I would fear that if Mayo did this there would be a backlash and I suppose it would be remiss of me not to have looked up the rules in relation to this.
“When I looked up what the GAA rules relating to sponsors’ brands and distinctive marks and logos, they can disqualify the team from the competition if the logo has not been sanctioned and there can be a loss of expenses for players or individuals and not less than 24 weeks or expulsion from the association for wearing them for individual players.
“I find that very hard to take.”
Gough was scathing in his dismissal of a statement forwarded to the programme by a GAA spokesperson to the effect that the principal reason for the directive was the practical one that rainbow-coloured numbers are hard to see for both spectators and match officials.
“I think that’s a ridiculous comment. We’ve already seen Ireland and the FAI wearing them in the Aviva in a match [controlled by] an international sporting body against Canada or the USA – I’m not sure which one – and there was no issue whatsoever.”
Gough was prevented from wearing a rainbow wristband in 2015 because of the marriage equality referendum, the campaign for which was taking place at the time. He referred to that when arguing that LGBTQ+ rights were not a political issue.
“The Pride movement is not a political movement. It is a community-based human rights movement. It might push and lobby politicians for advancement within the LGBT community but it is not party political per se.
“I know when I tried to wear the [rainbow] wristband in 2015, I tied that attempt to a political statement by saying that I was calling for a yes vote in the marriage equality referendum. But this attempt by Mayo to support a charity of their choice, who say that they want to promote LGBT issues is not a political statement. It has nothing to do with politics whatsoever.”
He was asked by Ó Mongáin why hardly any male players had followed in the wake of Cork’s Dónal Óg Cusack’s coming out in 2009 when it was hoped that statements of sexuality would become ‘normalised’.
“I’m not sure because my mindset has changed in relation to this issue over the past number of years when I’ve had the opportunity to speak to players and managers about the dressingroom culture. And I would have been very hard on the dressingroom cultures that existed in Gaelic games as I saw them when I was growing up and what I perceived was happening in the dressingroom still.
“From an intercounty perspective I feel – and from speaking to the intercounty players – that they would be very open to LGBT or gay men in their dressingroom and would have no issue. And that they would have stated that and that there are openly gay men in their dressingrooms but that it would not be public knowledge to the media.
“People might not feel comfortable in the media spotlight or want their sexuality as public knowledge. No one should have to speak about their sexuality publicly.
“I know what it’s like to have your sexuality plastered over the front page of a Sunday newspaper. It’s not always the most pleasant reading. There is that reluctance that they don’t know who they’re going to face. I can understand why they may want to be private about it.
“We’re also in a situation where it shouldn’t be an issue any more. This country is totally accepting of gay men within sport and we’ve proven that. It shouldn’t be a case that we need people to come out, although role models within the sport would be fantastic for younger people.”