Gearoid McKiernan ban shows Gaelic Games belong to everyone
The decision to serve Cavan midfielder Gearoid McKiernan with a proposed two-game suspension was the first time the GAA have been able to enforce a rule passed at Congress last February.
Motion 60, as proposed by Central Council, amended the previous Rule 7.2, category IV, adding, '(ix) An act by deed, word or gesture of a racist, sectarian or anti inclusion/diversity nature.'
It's important we do not isolate the umbrella term for the rule change in the wake of the first high-profile red card it was implemented for.
While the comments passed between players in this instance was one of a sectarian nature, the new measures were designed to not create a hierarchy of offence. Ulster is no different from any other province in terms of the population diversifying and in any process of integration, there will be snags along the road.
We don't have to rack our brains to think of those who have suffered racism or sectarianism. There are those who have bravely spoken out about it, such as Wexford dual player Lee Chin and Jason Sherlock. More locally, we had the example of Darren Graham of Fermanagh.
Anecdotal evidence speaks of northern teams playing southern counterparts and being subject to all sorts of nonsense, with referees willing to turn a blind eye to it. That the GAA have enshrined that kind of behaviour with punishment is only the first step.
Some will feel that a two-match ban is not enough punishment for an offence of this nature. Be that as it may, that is the full rigour of the law that can be implemented at present.
Another way of looking at it would be to consider the mortification of the player punished and how it will serve as a valuable life lesson and deter others from choice remarks like it.
The GAA, at local, provincial and national level, do not keep records of how many Protestants, Travellers, Jews, Sikhs or Homosexuals play their games. To do so would contravene equality laws. We know this because we contacted the Ulster Council. And in any case, what does it matter?
Does any other sporting body in the world keep tabs on their playing base, and if so, then why? The great democracy of sport is that it does not matter what your background is, it only matters if you can play.
In this corner of the world, the Ulster Council began a process in 2005 to attract more players to the GAA from all backgrounds. Since then, it has succeeded in doing so. Anecdotal evidence and personal experience of this writer from dealing with many clubs tells us that little by little, walls and barriers are coming down.
At county level it is slightly different, but nonetheless easily attributable to the fact that players not from the Catholic faith may not have had an early grounding in Gaelic games and therefore may take longer in acquiring the skills.
There are those that thrive in creating divisions in this society. The GAA however, has worked hard to become a force for unity.
They would point out that Lord Carson himself was a GAA member, and a keen hurler in his Trinity days.
The point is, the GAA does not belong to any race, creed or religion. And a strong message was sent out to underline that in Armagh on Tuesday night.