Westmeath defender Boidu Sayeh has revealed he’s been called a ‘black bastard while playing, but didn’t take it personally and he believes the issue of racism in the game is improving.
The corner-back, who could be promoted with Westmeath to Division 2 of the Allianz League this weekend, arrived in Ireland from war-torn Liberia in 2004. His first experience of a GAA match was to attend the drawn Leinster final of 2004 between Westmeath and Laois, though he initially impressed at soccer. He quickly excelled at Gaelic games and has come up through the ranks with Westmeath, emerging as one of the first black players to compete at senior county level. He acknowledged he had experienced racial abuse as a GAA player.
“People would obviously say things to you, but I would naturally brush it off,” he said. “I just see it more as someone who is frustrated or whatever and something would come out. It wouldn’t be anything as bad as... it might be something like, ‘ya black bastard’. I don’t take it as personal, I just brush it off. Obviously, it’s still there, people would be a little racial. I feel like a lot of people would see black lads playing, or Asian lads or Pakistani lads, and I think everyone is seeing that the game is developing and things are getting better. I think the situation has calmed down a good bit, well from my part anyway. It feels like it has.”
Sayeh, 23, a student in Waterford, acknowledged it can be difficult for young black players to start playing GAA at first, as opposed to soccer.
“Every team I’ve played on, I’ve nearly been the only black guy on the side,” said the Rosemount defender, who was an O’Byrne Cup final winner against Dublin in January. “Sometimes it’s a bit intimidating, especially as a little kid, being the only black guy on the team. Yet, a little kid will join a soccer team no bother, because there’s probably 10 black kids on that team, but for Gaelic, you’d be the only one standing there, maybe one or two others.
When I first started, there were only two of us, I think. It is changing, a lot more black kids are playing Gaelic now. I think it’s changing, I hope it is
Sayeh was adopted by his uncle Ben and Auntie Therese, a missionary, and brought to Ireland 15 years ago. He’d been living with his sister beforehand in what he described as a “shanty town” on the Liberian coast.
“When I was in first class, everything was new to me,” he said. “I was just sitting in the room and it randomly started snowing. Everything else for me in the room was just gone then. I was looking out the window [thinking], ‘what the hell is that coming out of the sky’?” he said, smiling.
The Renault Ireland 2019 GAA World Games take place in Waterford from July 28 to August 2, with the finals scheduled for Croke Park.