Zero tolerance for racism in Gaelic Games
By John Harrington
It is important that their voices are heard because it is only by shining a light on such discrimination when it occurs that it can be exposed and rooted out.
The Association is anti-sectarian, anti-racist, and committed to the principles of inclusion and diversity at all levels. These values are enshrined in the GAA’s Official Guide.
Last year the GAA launched a manifesto which was summed up by the statement ‘GAA – Where We All Belong’.
That manifesto wasn’t a self-serving pat on the back, it was a call to arms, and one the Association is determined to live up to.
The racist slurs suffered by Franz, Stefan, and Lara proves there is a journey still to travel, but the GAA has worked hard and continues to work hard to ensure that inclusivity is a byword for Gaelic Games.
Ger McTavish is the Association’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer and, among many other initiatives, is responsible for considerable and ongoing efforts to address racism on behalf of the GAA, the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, and the Camogie Association.
“The GAA is made up of one race with many ethnicities that we support in our community awareness campaigns and all educational sport programmes,” McTavish told GAA.ie
“The Diversity and Inclusion work in the GAA takes many forms and we endeavour to develop policy and practice of using the family of Gaelic games for cultural integration and social inclusion of people from our diverse ethnic population in Irish society, along with making sure that all the games in the Gaelic basket are adapted for people with different abilities.”
Most recently, in collaboration with Sports Against Racism Ireland (SARI), McTavish developed the Association’s Responding to Racism (R2R) educational and awareness campaign which includes both education and procedures to follow should any incidents arise in GAA clubs.
After a pilot phase last year, the first Responding to Racism workshop took place in Mayo last March. Ballaghaderreen club-man and All-Ireland winning Mayo U-21 footballer, Shairoze Akram, took part in it and believes such work-shops can be a very important education tool.
“I think those sorts of workshops are very important going forward. It's about educating not just players, but coaches as well,” Akram told GAA.ie
“Because coaches will then go back to their own clubs and counties and the message will be reiterated to all the players from a young age.
“Everybody needs to be educated on that what you say and what you do can have consequences and a negative effect on an individual.
“The education side of it is very important because some kids might say things without knowing exactly what it actually means and others mightn't realise what they're saying is offensive.
“Even the older generation might ask you, 'Where are you from?'
“I wasn't born in Ireland, I was born in Pakistan, but I've been living in Ballaghaderreen since I was very young.
“But some of my friends were born here and people will ask them where they're from and they'll say, 'I'm from Mayo'. But then the person will say to them, 'No, where are you actually from?’
“They don't mean any harm and they mightn't think that's being racist, but it can come across kind of racist.
“It's all about educating people on how what they say and how they say it can affect others.”
Thankfully, it is some time since it has last happened, but in the past Akram has been the victim of racial abuse while playing Gaelic Football.
“When I was younger, yeah, I would have experienced it and not just on the pitch but off it too,” he says.
“When my family moved to Ballaghaderreen people weren't used to foreign nationals coming in. But I think people have gotten more used to it now and that has helped.
“But when we first come over you could be walking down the street with your friends and somebody would say something to you. I would have gotten a bit of it too on the GAA pitch when I was younger, until the age of 15 or so.
“But once I started playing up to minor and U-21s and started playing with Mayo people would get to know you as a persona and they wouldn't feel the need to say stuff like that.
“I don't think we have the same level of racism in Ireland that you would in a country like the USA, but you would be foolish to say there is none or that it isn't an issue at all.”
Despite the racism that Akram occasionally had to endure, he still regards his experience in Gaelic Games as hugely positive overall and believes the Association’s policy of inclusivity is a win-win one.
“It's beneficial for both parties," he says. "The GAA is a great social outlet for new people moving into Ireland.
“When my parents first moved over they knew no-one in the town, but from bringing me to football they got to know other parents. And it was great for me too obviously in terms of developing friendships.
“The other side of it is that it can be a great benefit for clubs to welcome new people in, especially clubs that might be struggling for numbers.
“Sport is a great way to break down barriers and it means so much to people to be welcomed into a town by the local GAA club.
“And, as I've found, being involved in the GAA has been a great help to me outside of sport too. I've made friendships and contacts that I'll have for life.”
The GAA is as much a community organisation as a sporting one which is why it is so important that social inclusion should be at the core of its ethos.
The Irish population is an increasingly diverse one and migrants from many different countries are making a significant contribution to their local GAA clubs since moving to Ireland.
Longford Slashers are a good example of a club who have welcomed the migrant community with open arms and are now reaping the rewards.
They’ve been very successful at underage level in recent years thanks in no small part to the influx of new families into the area and the club’s proactive approach in getting them involved.
More important than the silverware won is the way in the manner in which the club’s inclusive policy has made newcomers to the town quickly feel part of the community.
Longford Councillor, Uruemu Adejinmi, is the Slashers’ Integration Officer, and has experienced first-hand the positive impact it makes when the hand of friendship is willingly extended.
“Getting involved in the GAA is an easy win as far as I’m concerned as a migrant because you’re sharing the love that the Irish people have for their sport,” she told GAA.ie.
“The GAA is an opportunity for migrants to get involved, to blend in, to understand the Irish culture in terms of sport.
“And it’s an opportunity as well to embrace more of the new community and get them to see the welcome, the céad míle fáilte that the Irish are known for.
“That’s why I love getting involved, that’s why I became the integration officer, to get more people into the club, to experience the embrace I have received here, to experience the greatness of Gaelic Football and to join the Longford Slashers GAA family.”
The founding fathers of the GAA hoped the Association would help consolidate Irish identity through the playing of our native sports at a time when they were close to dying out altogether.
Gaelic Games are thriving now and the time for consolidation is long past. Now there is far more to be gained from sharing our sporting culture with others.
Proof of that is vividly illustrated by the rapid growth of our international GAA units which now number over 400. Once traditionally a home from home for Irish ex-pats, GAA clubs outside of Ireland are now bastions of multi-culturalism and a great advertisment for the GAA's embrace of diversity.
Our own Irish identity is something that is constantly evolving. It is enriched by those who come here from other countries and bring the best of their own culture with them.
The act of opening their arms in welcome to new members in their community has been a mutually enriching experience for both GAA clubs and those they’ve brought into the fold.
All genders, creeds, and ethnicities are welcome in the GAA because diversity makes us stronger.
There is simply no place in the GAA for discrimination, a fact that GAA President John Horan made very clear last year when he spoke at an ecumenical service in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“I look forward to the day when another man or woman of mixed ethnic background emulates Sean Óg O’hAilpin to collect one of our famed trophies on the steps of the Hogan Stand in our own hallowed cathedral, Croke Park,” said Horan.
“When we cross the threshold of a GAA club or dressing room, the only thing that should matter for the time that we are there is the colour of the jersey that we pull over our heads.
“It’s those colours and the crest which the jersey bears that should be the only distinction between everyone involved on a given day.
“Race, gender, creed or absence thereof, gender preference, profession or political persuasion are all issues from our personal lives that bear no relevance to the playing of our games.”
See below for further information on the GAA’s commitment to promoting equality and eliminating discrimination.
1: What steps has the GAA taken in recent years to promote equality and eliminate discrimination?
In the GAA official guide, the Association is Anti-Sectarian, Anti-Racist and committed to the principles of inclusion and diversity at all levels. Any conduct by deed, word, or gesture of sectarian or racist nature or which is contrary to the principles of inclusion and diversity against a player, official, spectator or anyone else, in the course of activities organised by the Association, shall be deemed to have discredited the Association.
The GAA had in place since 2010 an integration and inclusion officer, Tony Watene, who carried the flame of inclusion and integration for nine years. Tony now fill the role of wheelchair hurling and camogie coordinator. The New Zealand native drove the Give respect, Get respect campaign along with the GAA for ALL Committee. The GAA for ALL committee oversees the Wheelchair hurling and camogie, football for all.
The current Diversity and Inclusion officer, Ger McTavish, employed in 2019, is determined to further develop the policy and practice of using the family of Gaelic games for cultural integration and social inclusion engaging people from our diverse ethnic population in Irish society, along with making sure that all the games in the Gaelic family are adapted for people with different abilities.
Responding to Racism
In March 2020 in line with the INAR Human Rights week, Ger McTavish launched the first GAA Responding To Racism (R2R) educational and awareness campaign. The campaign, which includes education elements and procedures to follow should any incidents arise at any level of the GAA, has been developed in collaboration with Sports Against Racism Ireland (SARI).
The GAA aims to offer an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone. Inclusion essentially means people having a sense of belonging, of being comfortable in being part of something they value. Inclusion is a choice. Diversity means being aware of accommodating and celebrating difference. Inclusion and Diversity in many ways go together. Real inclusion reflects diversity, i.e. it aims to offer that sense of belonging to everyone, irrespective of gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, race or minority community and/or disability.
The GAA’s Manifesto is summed up by the statement "GAA- Where We All Belong" / "CLG - Tá Áit Dúinn Uilig Ann".
We’re proud of and celebrate our Irishness; a celebration of our GAA, our shared values and of every person who helps make the GAA what it is - in every corner of the globe; that we focus on Gaelic Games and activities; that we’re community-based; and that we cherish our amateur ethos and volunteer base. We remain and are proud of what we are but in doing so and in remaining true to all that, we are open and welcoming to others.
2: In what aspects of the Association's activities have these steps has the greatest impact?
Many aspects of the Association have been positively impacted by such activities to date, from our clubs and schools, to our communities and our volunteers.
GAA for All is a family of initiatives in the GAA encompassing Wheelchair hurling and Camogie, football for all, Fun and Run, “All Star” Inclusive clubs and intercultural activities, amongst others. Wheelchair Hurling and Camogie is an inclusive indoor game involving 6-a-side teams which is suitable for all ages, genders and abilities. The rules have been modified to suit individuals involved and their capabilities. The four provinces compete in the M. Donnelly All-Ireland series every year, with the cup currently residing with Munster, the 2019 champions.
M. Donnelly GAA Football for ALL Interprovincial Finals are held in Croke Park each September and are delivered in partnership with Irish Special Schools Sports Council.
The ISSSC is a voluntary organisation that provides sporting and cultural activities in special schools, as designated by the Department of Education and Science. Children with mild-general learning disabilities compete in this 9-a-side Gaelic Football tournament.
The players represent the regions of Connacht, Dublin, Munster, North Leinster, South Leinster and Ulster and are drawn from 15 different special schools. Each squad comprises 12 boys and 12 girls who have been selected from regional trials to play on the hallowed turf of Croke Park.
The GAA’s support for the M. Donnelly GAA Football for ALL Interprovincial Finals reflects the Association’s on-going commitment to engaging with special schools, as set out in the new GAA Strategic Plan, Fís Shoiléir 2018-2021.
GAA Fun & Run is an inclusive activity involving a team of batters/kickers and fielders which is suitable for all ages, genders, and abilities. The game encompasses a range of fundamental skills that exist in Gaelic Football, Hurling, Rounders and Handball. The rules have been modified to adapt these skills to suit individuals involved and their capabilities. As a game it aims to ensure everyone can enjoy participation in Gaelic Games, the club, and therefore their community.
Cúl 4 All / Cúl Eile Camps are camps for children with additional needs that usually happen during the Easter and summer holidays (but many clubs now run adapted games programmes on a weekly basis). The camps are based on the hugely successful Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps, which provide boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 13 with an action-packed and fun-filled week of activity during the summer holidays.
Like Kellogg’s Cul Camps, these adapted camps revolve around maximizing enjoyment and facilitating participant involvement in Gaelic Games, regardless of perceived abilities or additional needs. Activities are player-centred with a games-based approach with a strong emphasis being placed on personal and social development and well-being. Activities are also organised in an age-appropriate manner with a view to optimizing learning, enhancing friendships, improving physical & psychological wellbeing, while promoting school and club links.
There has also been a rise in the delivery of intercultural programs across the GAA, including Coaching programmes for residents in Direct Provision centres or cultural days at club and county level, often coinciding with the popular Lá na gClubanna.
A recent Embracing Diversity Seminar was held in Ballyhaunis, where the community welcomed 75 nationalities to the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence for an exchange of knowledge and cultures. It included a discussion on projects in the community to promote diversity and equality, featuring contributions from residents of the direct provision system, community groups, the GAA, and An Garda Siochana.
The seminar delivered was in collaboration with the Department of Rural and Community Affairs and Dept. of Justice.
A GAA Gender Diversity working group is also currently active, helping to further align the GAA’s culture with its values and actions. The GAA is committed to providing an inclusive and diverse environment in which all members of the GAA community should expect to be able to thrive and be respected and valued for their unique perspectives and contributions, so that they can achieve their fullest potential.
This is in line with the strategic goal at the heart of our Strategic Plan 2017-2021, which is to value and develop our GAA community.
3: How is the GAA educating our younger members that discrimination in any form is not tolerated by the Association?
Code of Behaviour (Underage)
Since it was adopted in 2010 the Code of Behaviour has highlighted in simple language, understood by children and young people, that expressions and actions of a racist nature are not acceptable and will not be tolerated. In addition to our Association rule 1.12 in which conduct of a racist nature will be deemed to have discredited the Association we also have Rule 7.2 (e) an on the field of play rule that addresses racism while the above Code has also been enshrined in Rule.
Incidents of alleged racism can now be dealt with at club, county or national level by select Code of Behaviour Committees appointed and trained for that purpose.
Child Safeguarding Training
The GAA is the first NGB in Ireland to include a case study on racism amongst young people, as part of our child safeguarding (protection) training. Participants address this case study as form of child abuse and are asked how to address any racism and how to be proactive in addressing such matters. 22,800 GAA coaches attended this training in 2019.
GAA Tackling Bullying Programme
As the only Sports NGB with an anti bullying training programme regular workshops are delivered at Club level in response to incidents of bullying which at times may also include interventions as a result of racist actions.
In October 2019, as part of a new child safeguarding section, the content of referee's training programme was amended to include a case study on incidents of a racist nature calling at or during games. Whereas a referee may take immediate action during a game if they are aware or witness racism referees are now obliged to report any allegations of racism during or after a game to their relevant GAA County Board.
With the assistance of Consensus NI and the National College of Ireland a five week (weekend) training programme was agreed to upskill 20 tutors as part of the introduction of a Restorative Practice services in the GAA. This new form of support and alternative intervention has been specifically chosen to deal with disputes not traditionally dealt with under Rules, including issues of racism or bullying and personal conflicts. the training will commence as soon as is practically possible.
4. Looking to the future
On a broader front the inclusion and equity measures in the extant European commission white paper on sport will be fully implemented in a systematic way starting with the Club to Community programme where local clubs will engage . There is the template being used to guarantee a social compact with people with different abilities that will provide physical access in stadiums and other club facilities. There is many area of human rights and promotion of equality that is coming into the organisation through the Diversity and Inclusion officer Ger McTavish.
There will also be an adaptive sport strategy that will expand the work already achieved by the GAA. Ger is currently working with UNESCO Tralee, Council of Europe and European commission on a human rights program. The Rights Understanding in Sport Toolkit (TRUST). This project will develop a programme for sports practitioners in educational institutions and the wider community on providing human rights education and raise awareness of the potential role sport can play in human rights promotion. A second project that we are involved in is Responsibility Sport with Erasmus plus, Solidarity and Responsible Sports Euro leaders Training in collaboration with University College Cork.
The project aims to introduce in sports academies and sports clubs, procedures that can combat social problems that today's sport faces (violence, racism, intolerance, discrimination, gender inequality, inequality of access to sports, language stereotypes and others). For this, we will want to create a social responsibility stamp and a recognition process adapted to sport and we will want to develop a European course training to sports directors (and consultants) in these issues. We want to make these actions recognized at national and a European level through a common recognition. We continue to work closely on many collaborations with Sport Against Racism Ireland and many other stakeholders.