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Joe Kernan: Abusers will drive GAA to the wall

The racist abuse to which Armagh captain Ciaran McKeever was allegedly subjected during his team’s game against Laois on Sunday is sadly only the tip of what is a very sizeable iceberg.

It has been common knowledge for some time now that northern teams have been coming in for a lot of racist comments, many of which refer to the Troubles.

What is more, the GAA authorities are aware of this yet they appear to be reluctant to take firm action to weed this problem out of the Association for good.

I am aware that, just as is the case with the payments to managers, it is very difficult for the powers-that-be to come up with concrete evidence that a player, official or supporter has breached the code of decency and sportsmanship by stooping to verbal insults of a reprehensible nature.

It would appear from all accounts that McKeever, a hardened county player who has represented Armagh, province and country with distinction since captaining the Orchard County to the All-Ireland U21 title in 2004, was on the receiving end of comments that could at best be described as over the top and at worst nothing short of absolutely disgusting.

I have made reference to the cancer of verbals — racist and otherwise — within gaelic games on more than one occasion in this newspaper and have called for the GAA authorities to grasp this particular nettle.

Invariably, my pleas fell on stony ground — and now the GAA finds itself in a right mess.

I firmly believe that the Association’s credibility and reputation will suffer if penalties in relation to provocative comments which are already enshrined in the Official Guide are not implemented.

It’s time for the GAA to take a stand on this. It has been going on for too long now. The Association is not adhering to the principles and standards which it is preaching about. There are rules governing conduct and unless they are followed the sport is going to lose out in a big way.

Parents are going to be reluctant to allow their children to be involved if they know that sooner or later they are going to be subjected to verbal abuse.

Yet while there is undoubtedly a clamour to see decisive action taken against the Laois player allegedly involved in the taunting of McKeever, it is understood that the Croke Park authorities are uncomfortable now that the whole issue has been put into the public domain.

In his annual report released just last month, the GAA Director General Paraic Duffy made reference to what he described as “a hostile media” yet all the blame for the Association’s shortcomings cannot be laid at the door of the media.

Now that the incident involving the Armagh skipper has been highlighted, this certainly serves to show the GAA in a bad light.

And it has also triggered anecdotal evidence that indicates this is not just a recent phenomenon.

I well recall that when Laois played Armagh in 2007 a member of the Laois backroom team made provocative racist comments and when their then manager Liam Kerins heard of this, he immediately axed that individual from his management set-up.

I have been made aware too that when Armagh played Kerry in the National League last month, there was an inordinate amount of verbals of a similar nature to those experienced by McKeever.

The verbal assault to which McKeever was allegedly subjected is not without its ration of irony.

It is claimed that a Laois player shouted ‘God save the Queen’ and referred to him as a ‘British b******’ yet last year Her Majesty was accorded a magnificent welcome at Croke Park and the fact that McKeever hails from Cullyhanna in the heartland of south Armagh would serve to dismantle his credentials as a British anything!

Ulster players, let it be said, are not exactly saints when it comes to letting loose with verbal bashing of opponents.

But there are limits to what players can take both in terms of sexual references to female relatives and their own perceived nationality or patriotic tendencies.

It is a problem that could have potentially disastrous consequences for the Association unless firm action is taken — and quickly.

Belfast Telegraph


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