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'We've got players who couldn't go to work the next day because of the abuse they got on a Sunday'

GPA chief executive Paul Flynn says social media abuse of inter-county players is on the rise.

Paul Flynn, chief executive of the Gaelic Players Association.
Paul Flynn, chief executive of the Gaelic Players Association.
Image: GPA

Updated Sep 24th 2019, 8:30 AM

GAELIC PLAYERS ASSOCIATION CEO Paul Flynn has warned that online abuse directed at players is “filtering into our game.”

Flynn says young inter-county players are being educated about the dangers of social media and how to deal with the abuse that has become widespread in society.

The issue came to prominence in soccer in recent months as several high-profile Premier League stars, including Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, were subjected to racist comments on social media platforms. 

Flynn says online abuse has become commonplace in the GAA too, with some players even missing work due to the hateful messages they received by users.

“We’ve got players who couldn’t go to work the next day because of the abuse they got on a Sunday,” he said. “They were teachers or professionals facing kids and so forth. Very difficult at the moment. 

“Online abuse is epidemic across society. We’re just a microcosm of society. We’re in the public eye so we get more of it than others.”

At the GPA’s first ‘Rookie Camp’ in 2018, 73 newcomers to inter-county hurling and football were taught about a range of topics, including social media.  

“One of the journalists commented last year that we were educating players on how to sell themselves on social media and build their brand. It was very much about minding themselves on social media. 

“But it is also about them managing their own accounts so for job opportunities they are in the public eye and what they are putting out there is very important that it managed quite carefully.

kerry-team-line-up-for-the-national-anthem The Kerry team ahead of the All-Ireland final replay.

“It is really just an education around the dangers of social media but also the opportunity for them to show their personality through their accounts too. That’s the overall theme from it.

“We have a guy who did a lot of work with the rugby players association too, Kieran File, he’s an expert in this field,” continued Flynn.

“He does something interesting. We gave him the names of the people that were there and he audited all their accounts. Then he anonymised it and shared on the day some of the things that were said.

“He’d ask, ‘Would you qualify this as being an okay thing to say? Would you say this in a classroom?’ Or whatever way he put it.

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“Obviously, there were some shocking things put up there but that’s the type of thing he was trying to get across, ‘What’s put out there, stays out there and you need to be very careful about that.’

“A part of it is about the online abuse. On that one of the things, we are doing in that space with the Gaelic Voices For Change this year is teaming up with Webwise, a State agency around social media and communications.

“What they do is they have programmes to educate young people around positive digital citizenship. It’s all about educating young people around how to act positively on social media and not be just telling them what not to do. 

“We’re getting behind them to support them with the rollout of these campaigns over the course of the next three months. We’re in talking to one of the Ministers, Hildegarde Naughton, next week around something similar too.  Online abuse around social media is a societal epidemic and it is filtering into our game as well.”

Flynn also said the GPA are continuing to explore the possibility of inter-county players receiving tax breaks for their efforts.

Kieran Donaghy, Alan Brogan and Chris Barrett are among the high profile names who’ve offered support for such an incentive in the past month.

“It is very organic,” said the four-time All-Star. 

“It came from players themselves. It hasn’t come from us. Something I was keen to explore when I came into the role, still exploring it. very complex space.

“But I think the most important thing in the short term is to renew our Government grants scheme currently in place. That’s the short term focus for now.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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