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Referee banned from wearing a Gay Pride wristband by GAA

An openly gay TD said he understands why the GAA banned a referee from wearing a Gay Pride wristband during Dublin's Allianz Football League clash with Tyrone on Saturday night in Croke Park.

David Gough, who is on the GAA's elite panel of inter-county referees, wanted to wear the so-called 'freedom' wristband to highlight equality and homophobia in sport, and as a personal gesture of support for a 'Yes' vote in the forthcoming referendum on same-sex civil marriage.

Mr Gough (31), the country's first openly gay GAA match official, was initially granted permission by senior figures in the association.

But in a flurry of late-night phone calls, that decision was rescinded by the Croke Park authorities.

He was told that the GAA does not allow political statements and wearing the "gay pride" or "freedom" wristband, made up of six differently coloured stripes and signifying diversity in the gay community, breached that rule.

Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer said: "The GAA have been very proactive in battling homophobia and had the wristband only signified that I am sure the referee would have been allowed wear it.

"But I can see where the GAA is coming from in relation to the referendum issue," Buttimer told the Irish Daily Star.

The GAA, in a statement to the Sunday Independent on Saturday night, said that once the referendum on same-sex civil marriage had been called then the issue, "became political."

"It's a black and white issue. The association is apolitical. Any member is allowed to have their own political views or opinions outside but Croke Park is not the place to make political gestures. We have been very consistent on this issue," said head of media relations Alan Milton.

During the phone calls with officials on Friday night, Mr Gough's planned gesture was compared with the unfurling of a Palestinian flag in the stands at Croke Park last year which was removed from fans by stewards because of its overt political nature.

Mr Gough, tipped as a potential All-Ireland football final ref, said he felt "disappointed, dismayed and let down".

"I had received permission at noon on Friday but then received a number of calls on Friday night and another at 7.30am yesterday when they told me they would not allow it.

"At one stage they had offered a compromise where I could wear the wristband under the stands at Croke Park, on the fringes of the pitch or in the dressing rooms but would have to take it off when I crossed the white line onto the pitch for the match. I would not have done that. It would have made it look as if I had something to hide. They have over-analysed and over-politicised a very simple gesture," he told the Sunday Independent.

The Slane club footballer and primary school teacher in Templeogue had made his intentions to wear the wristband known to his school principal as well as GAA referees' chief Patrick Doherty on Friday.

"Both were very supportive," said David, who refereed the under-21 football final between Galway and Cork in 2013, the Division 2 league final last year between Donegal and Monaghan as well as this year's O'Byrne Cup final between Dublin and Kildare.

But later there was a change of attitudes at GAA headquarters, and in a series of phone calls, including an exchange with Mr Milton, his plan was vetoed.

"I have no option but to accept the decision," David said just hours before he was due to throw-in the ball for last night Allianz football league clash.

David added: "I suppose that in the current climate it was simply my gesture of support for same-sex civil marriage but mostly to raise the issue of equality and homophobia in sport.

"I have been openly gay since 2011 when I was in my late 20s - which, I suppose, was relatively late in life in this day and age. My family were the first to know. I did it all over one weekend. I told my team-mates and close friends that weekend and college friends and all that the following week. I found that everyone was incredibly supportive.

"I presume most players in Co Meath would know I'm gay at this stage. It is not something that has been hidden by either me or my family. It has never been an issue in Meath. All the players have always shown me great respect. It never raised its head in any form during my officiating at matches," he said.

He said he had great admiration for former Cork goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack and his decision to publicly talk about his sexuality.

"Like everything else, it makes headlines for a couple of days and then life moves on. I think it shows in many ways that Ireland has changed in that it has become normal and run-of-the-mill and people get on with their lives.

"Donal has certainly made things easier for the likes of me within the GAA," Mr Gough added.

He said that some time in the future he wants the right to marry.

"I would love to have a civil marriage without doubt. I believe every family knows someone who is gay, a brother, sister, son or daughter or a neighbour or friend and this is a time when they can stand behind those loved ones and show them support by voting in favour of same-sex civil marriage," he said.

"This issue needs to be sorted out now in a positive manner and give support to all the young people in the country so they can realise their dreams, whether that is refereeing or playing a match in Croke Park or getting married in a civil partnership."

Mr Gough said that, in an effort to be totally open with the GAA, he had spoken to the Croke Park authorities informing them that he would be wearing the wristband and the reasons behind it.

"I spoke to Patrick Doherty, national match officials manager, on Friday morning and he was very supportive. He saw no issue with it whatsoever," he added.

"I also spoke to Donal Smyth who is the referee coordinator in Meath and my two county colleagues on the elite panel David Coldrick and Cormac Reilly who were also very supportive."

But the primary schoolteacher at St Pius X in south Dublin said attitudes at Croke Park changed on Friday night and yesterday morning.

"I was told flatly that I could not do it. I am disappointed, dismayed and feel I, and all gay members of the association, have been let down."

Mr Gough started refereeing in 2007 and has played with the Slane club from childhood. He made rapid progress through the refereeing ranks. He went on to the elite panel of GAA football referees for the All-Ireland Championships for both 2013 and 2014 and is expected to feature again this year.

On Saturday night, Alan Milton said it was long-standing GAA policy that no political gestures be made at matches or official functions."

"Once the referendum was called on same-sex civil marriage it became a political issue going before the people in a vote. We, of course, are vehemently opposed to homophobia in any form and have actively supported diversity in our games," Mr Milton told the Sunday Independent.

However, Mr Milton said that the GAA could not offer Croke Park as a platform for any political views.

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