Oisín McConville: Support, not vilify, problem gamblers

The GAA must ensure they provide support to any member found to have bet on a game in which they are directly involved, argues Oisín McConville.

After last Saturday week’s Congress vote, to do so will soon carry a charge of discrediting the association, which carries a penalty of anything from a four-week suspension to expulsion for the individual in question.

All but two of the 236 delegates in Croke Park voted in favour of the motion. None of those who stood up to speak on the proposal mentioned that the GAA should offer to help anyone found to have contravened the rule.

McConville, who has overcome a gambling addiction, pointed to the example of Thomas Connolly, the Monaghan senior footballer who in 2015 was found to have taken a performance-enhancing substance. “That’s when people need an association more than ever, whether it’s the Gaelic Players Association, the GAA, or whoever. That’s when people need help the most.

“What I’ve learned with the bit of work I’ve done with the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) in England is that’s when they rally around somebody the most, when people have found themselves in situations when the whole world comes tumbling around them. That’s when it’s essential that instead of vilifying people, we support them because that’s when they need it the most.

“They feel alone. In order to be betting on themselves, they have to be feeling some sort of desperation to have to do that in the first place. You’re looking at the most vulnerable of all and we need to realise that they are the people who need our help more than most.”

For some, it comes down to what they adjudge most important: The integrity of the game or welfare of a person in difficulty. McConville can imagine just how castigated a person might be and feel if they are found to have infringed on the betting rule.

McConville said: “I think we always need a little bit of self-care and we always need to look out for people. A lot of people are very quick about making judgment calls against people who are found to be in breach of these sorts of things and nobody knows the circumstances and each circumstance is different.

“People do have a preconceived notion of those who gamble and how devious they are. And, do you know that, they are so right because when I gambled I was a devious bastard and I would have done anything in order to get that hit or that bet. But it’s amazing just where it takes you and just how desperate you can get.

“We’ve already seen stories in the GAA where gambling has taken them to places where they would never have imagined they were going to go but that’s the thing. Each case has to be taken on its individual merits. Find out the facts, all the facts, and deal with it appropriately.”


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