Players guilty of race abuse may face ‘education’ programme

GAA president Liam O’Neill has revealed players and officials found guilty of making racist comments may be forced to undergo education courses as part of their punishment.

The Laois man intends tackling an issue — that raised its ugly head once again last Sunday — under a wider respect brief in a motion in time for March’s Congress.

Although Wexford footballer Lee Chin’s Sarsfields club are putting forward a motion to county convention later this month calling for racist abuse to be made a red card offence, O’Neill is keen to see something done at central level.

To improve respect towards referees, he also wants the communication from the players to the match official restricted to one or a small number of designated players.

However, O’Neill agrees issuing bans to players is not a sufficient enough penalty for racial abuse.

“I think it’s probably not enough to suspend people — we might go through an education programme before they are allowed back.

“I’m not sure is that feasible to do with the rules, but the club that has players who use abuse should be made hold a programme for their players to re-educate them.

“That’s something that we are going to have to give a lead in. This is a wider issue and the opportunity presented to us at the minute gives us a chance to do something significant. If we pull it off, it will be a benefit to sport in general.”

As for whether players or officials discovered to have made racist comments should be named, O’Neill said: “I would have no sympathy with anyone who is outed for casting a slur on anybody.

“I would prefer us to get our penalties right to get these people off our fields and get them to engage in other forms of activities other than playing our sports.

“Our organisation has no need for people who are abusive. I have no sympathy if somebody is found guilty and is given a punishment — they will get no sympathy from me.”

O’Neill has every confidence in the Ulster Council completing a thorough and satisfactory investigation into Crossmaglen footballer Aaron Cunningham’s claim that he was abused by Kilcoo players in last Sunday’s Ulster club SFC final in Armagh.

“It’s a matter for the Ulster Council and they will be do a good job, I do know that.

“I think you have to be impressed with the speed with which they acted. I think you have to commend the Kilcoo club too with their immediate, honest response to it too.”

O’Neill is determined to reduce verbal abuse in Gaelic games across the board and wants to take a leaf out of rugby’s book in relation to players’ interaction with referees.

“I would like only one player per team having permission to speak to the referee.

“It could be from that diamond of centre-back, midfield, centre-forward; it doesn’t have to be captain. It would cut down on communication.

“I like the idea of some underage games being played in silence, when nobody is shouting at children.

“At Féile, any time I speak to coaches, I tell them never to shout at children for not having a skill they didn’t teach them in the first place.

“I remind them that they are shouting at children for not doing something they weren’t coached properly to do in the first place.”

Meanwhile, the unofficial referees body, the Gaelic Match Officials Association, has called on the GAA to use referee assessors to report on alleged racist abuse.

“One of the problems with the most recent case was the abuse went unheard by match officials and didn’t make it into the referee’s report.

“Instead of putting more responsibility on the match officials why not use the referees match assessor to monitor racist abuse from the crowd?

* At last night’s meeting of the Ulster GAA CCC it was agreed to establish an investigation into alleged events at Sunday's Ulster Club SFC final based on the contents of the referee's report.

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