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'We all have a responsibility there, not just the referee' - the issue of racism in the GAA

Jason Sherlock and Boidu Sayeh both discussed the issue on The Sunday Game last night.

Jason Sherlock speaking on The Sunday Game.
Jason Sherlock speaking on The Sunday Game.

DUBLIN ALL-IRELAND winner Jason Sherlock has called for the GAA to educate underage players as part of their anti-racist policy and believes the responsibility for policing incidents during games cannot just lie with the referee.

Sherlock appeared on The Sunday Game last night along with Westmeath footballer Boidu Sayeh to discuss an issue that been in the spotlight again of late with GAA players sharing their experiences.

Kerry All-Ireland underage winner Stefan Okunbor, who was born in Moldova and now plays in the AFL for Geelong, was amongst those to speak out when he recently wrote a column for The42 about the abuse he had suffered on and off the pitch when growing up in Tralee.

Sherlock outlined his desire for awareness to be created.

“This is certainly not about knocking the GAA. I’ve been very lucky to receive an unbelievable career and experience from playing GAA, and I’ve been welcomed in every part of Ireland because of that. That’s something that I would recommend to any other boy and girl to go after your dream of playing for your county.

“What we’re here to try and do is look at the solutions. Can we look at what we do in our summer camps with kids? Can you look at how inclusive our clubs are for people that wouldn’t traditionally go into GAA clubs?

“From a moderation point of view and I know there’s experiences with referees, they’re still not sure what’s right or wrong. I was empowered when I saw the likes of Aaron Cunningham and Lee Chin, they knew what was right or wrong in terms of what was said and what wasn’t said. We all have a responsibility there, not just the referee. It’s obbviously the moderators, to give them the tools to be able to decide on what’s right and wrong.

“People attending games, we know GAA is a passionate type of game, we don’t want to take that out. At the same time, are there comments made at matches that shouldn’t be made and do we do anything about that? We have great games, it’s important that we ensure that we continue to have a diverse and inclusive GAA community going forward.”

Sayeh revealed that racism was an issue he did not fully comprehend when he encountered it in his younger days.

“(I) really didn’t talk about it or express it too much, always just took it in and just let it slide really. But it was only as I got older you’re remembering all these comments and you’re thinking, ‘Wow Jesus, how did I take that?’

“At the time I wasn’t used to it, it was something new to me. It felt normal, I’m being slagged. It didn’t feel like an issue until I got older and you’re hearing other stories.”


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boidu-sayeh Westmeath footballer Boidu Sayeh Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Sherlock, who has in recent years played a key role in Dublin’s football dominance in a coaching capacity, spoke about the impact these incidents can have and the key to understanding that impact.

“I remember every situation where I was slagged by a player, a crowd, a manager. That doesn’t leave you. You still remember and you still harness all the self-doubt, all the anger, all the frustation, all the emotion that goes with a situation like that. Us talking about things like this, if that can assist one boy or girl in the GAA community and makes things a bit better for them, I think it’s worth exploring.

“I think part of this conversation about racism is understanding and it’s understanding on both parties, if you’re on the receiving end of racism and also if you potentially are curious or vindictive or ask questions about people because of the colour of their skin. I think it’s imperative that we provide what impact that can have. If we can understand the impact that it can make, maybe that might change the behaviours of certain people.

jason-sherlock Jason Sherlock before last year's drawn All-Ireland football final.

“I think from the GAA’s point of view, we have a big community that can make an impact into boys and girls, no matter how good they are at hurling and football. That’s the challenge, I’d love the GAA to explore. We look to society to give us leadership and guidance, we do the same with the GAA.

“We can be critical of the GAA in a lot of ways but I’d like to bring it back to each individual and see what they can have. Can they challenge themselves in terms of their own bias?”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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