Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Joe Kernan: We deserve better than awful abuse

Gerald McCarthy

Christmas is traditionally a season of goodwill. But while I fully respect that people are striving to spread good cheer despite the grim economic climate, I myself am on the warpath.

And what for the moment is nothing more than a personal battle will, I trust, morph into a full-blown crusade on the part of the GAA.

My ‘enemy’ are those many gutless people who currently employ the camouflage of anonymity to pen their messages of vitriol on GAA websites and in the print media.

While constructive criticism is welcomed — indeed, it is necessary to outlaw potential complacency — the level to which some contributors are descending is nothing short of dangerously disgusting.

Players, managers and county boards put their heads above the parapet week in and week out to do their best for the GAA. They are prone to error and, being human, they will have the occasional bad day at the office.

But should this prove the catalyst for some of the abuse which has been on view on websites and in newspapers over the course of this year? I don’t think so.

A new low in critical depravity was reached when former Cork hurling manager Gerald McCarthy found his life under threat — this in what is supposedly a family-driven amateur sporting organisation. I ask you!

We have had situations this year in which players, managers and officials came in for criticism during games — some of it justified — and then subsequently found themselves coming under the cosh even more when the text messages started to fly, the web-sites became fully operational and the printing presses started to roll. How many of the people who undertake their dubious roles in the murky underworld of abusing and lambasting GAA personnel of whatever hue would do so without what for them is the comforting cloak of anonymity?

I would question whether newspapers in particular should permit the use of e-mails and other missives to which authentic names and addresses are not attached.

The person who is the subject of abuse has no right of reply, of course, because he or she is unaware of the real source from which the vitriol emanates. It is one thing giving a below-par on-field performance — it is quite another to have to endure the morally degrading experience of character assassination as a follow-up to this.

Players, managers and officials are only human, after all. Wrong calls can be made in terms of options during play, team selections may prove questionable from time to time and administrative cock-ups certainly occur from time to time. But these are not hanging offences — nor, even on a more sinister note, should they be used as reasons for vilifying the families of the perceived perpetrators.

It is not unknown for the families of referees in particular — even their small children — to bear the brunt of what might have been considered a wrong split-second decision made in the white heat of an intense championship contest.

It’s time for the GAA to do whatever it can in its power to have a halt brought to these despicable practices that blight our games and the Association itself which continues to play such a significant role in the sporting and cultural life of this country.

Only a couple of weeks ago, I was informed that the Galway county board had been forced to take steps to have a particular website shut down such was the level of abuse being directed at aspects of the GAA, in particular hurling, within the county. That’s something that should not be necessary but it underlines to just what depths some people will stoop to make their point.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, of course. But such opinions can be expressed either verbally or in print without having to resort to the language of the gutter or indeed to the coward’s haven of anonymity.

I am thus hereby making a special New Year resolution to put as much pressure as I can on the GAA authorities — and on president Christy Cooney and director general Paraic Duffy in particular — to ensure that they take all possible steps to erase or at least minimise the damage that is being done to the association as a whole through the vitriol that is being expressed at the drop of a hat.

The sooner that virtues like decency, integrity and mutual respect are restored on a more widespread basis, the better it will be for all concerned.