- 11 Jun 20
The Association detailed its efforts to make Gaelic sports more diverse and inclusive.
Earlier today the Gaelic Athletic Association released a statement asserting that it has zero tolerance for racism in Gaelic games.
GAA correspondent John Harrington wrote that “the Association is anti-sectarian, anti-racist, and committed to the principles of inclusion and diversity at all levels.”
The announcement followed the decision of GAA athletes Franz Sauerland, Stefan Okunbor and Lara Dahunsi to share their experiences of racism on the football pitch.
Sauerland, a former Kerry minor footballer, says one opponent told him to “go back to the cotton fields.” Okunbor, who also played for Kerry, wrote that in one game, an opponent called him a “black bastard,” and the referee did nothing. Dahunsi says that when she was named the youngest player on Ulster’s LGFA Division 4 team, her achievement was dismissed by her peers as tokenism.
All three athletes grew up in Ireland and are of African descent. As protests against the police murder of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd sweep the United States, the three are among many worldwide to call out anti-Black racism publicly.
In response to these allegations, the GAA said “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.”
Last year, the GAA launched an educational campaign called “Responding to Racism” with help from Sports Against Racism Ireland. The series’s inaugural workshop took place in Mayo last March.
Since 2010, the GAA has employed an integration and inclusion officer, responsible for promoting diversity in the Association. The first person to hold this office was Tony Watene; he was followed Ger McTavish in 2019.
The GAA has also amended its rules to condemn racism. The code of behavior for underage players adopted in 2010 prohibits racist actions and speech. And in 2014, 96% of participating GAA members voted to make racist and sectarian abuse a sending-off offence in all GAA sports.
But the GAA still has a racist legacy with which to reckon. A recent article in Balls.ie pointed out that there are at least ten GAA clubs named for John Mitchel—a 19th century Irish republican who supported slavery and considered Black people inferior.
PJ Browne, a Balls.ie journalist, wrote that “in an Ireland more diverse and multi-cultural than ever - one in which young black children will play for and against clubs bearing John Mitchel's name - there needs to be a discourse about him and his attachment to the association.”