The furore caused by last week’s allegations from the Armagh County Board that their players had been subjected to ‘racist and personal abuse’ during the Allianz National League game against Laois, was one of the main topics on Setanta Sports’ lively iTalkSport programme on Sunday when GAA Director General Paraic Duffy revealed that he had asked the GPA to take a lead on sending a message to players that cross-border ‘sledging’ is not acceptable.
Here for the benefit of SportsNewsIreland readers who did not see the show is what Paraic Duffy said on this and other GAA topics of the moment.
Paraic Duffy on his own role in Armagh recanting their original statement:
“I met with the chairmen of both County Boards in Croke Park on Thursday. When Armagh put out the original statement, a pretty damning statement, it was interpreted in some media, that it referred to the chanting of God Save the Queen and so on and I think Laois were concerned, and rightly so, that it looked as though there were allegations that supporters or a group of people had been chanting offensive remarks at Armagh players.
“This was an incident involving two players, one from each side. Laois felt obliged to reply to the Armagh statement, it was beginning a cycle and a spiral. My feeling was we’d get the two counties together to address the issue. Armagh, to be fair, accepted that the statement could have been interpreted in that way.
“Having said that, an incident clearly took place, I don’t want to get into the specifics of the Ciarán McKeever case because it’s not finalised. He was clear to play last night and it’s gone back to the CCCC for investigation.”
Will Armagh be punished for making the allegations?
“No. I would have preferred if Armagh hadn’t issued the original statement. The wording of it was pretty strong and perhaps in the heat of the moment I can understand that. But I think it would have been better for everyone if they hadn’t. They could have raised the issue without releasing such a strong statement, which I think wasn’t warranted. An incident clearly took place but there’ll be no punishment against Armagh. I think as the week went on they realised it was time to calm down a little bit. There were strong words in terms of racism, sectarianism and so on. I don’t think it was an incident of racism or sectarianism. It was thrash talking, sledging whatever you want to call it, it shouldn’t happen, it’s not something you want to see as part of our games but I don’t think that it’s an indication that there’s a rampant racism or sectarianism within the Association or about the way our games our played.”
Was there a deal for Armagh to recant their earlier statement so Ciaran McKeever could play this weekend?
“Absolutely not, absolutely not! I wasn’t aware until yesterday afternoon that McKeever had been cleared. It never came up at any stage and we wouldn’t deal with it on that basis.”
GAA to team up with GPA to send a message to players that cross-border sledging is not acceptable:
“I spoke with (GPA Chief Exec) Dessie Farrell about this. The players are the people who can give the lead here. This is something that can be stopped and stopped quick quickly. A couple of years ago when we had an issue around players feigning injury, we went to the GPA and said ‘Look, I think maybe you need to talk to the players about this’ and that was quite effective. What I would like to see now is the GPA taking a lead and saying to their members, all 32 counties ‘This kind of stuff needs to stop, it has no place in our games’. If that happens and it will happen I have no doubt about that, that’s the way to deal with this. What happened last Sunday shouldn’t have happened but I believe the best way to deal with this is by talking to our players. I think that the GPA are the people who are in the best position to do this and it can be buried quite quickly.”
‘Respect campaign isn’t working’:
When asked if the Respect initiative was working: “No I don’t to be honest. We haven’t made very much progress. The ‘Respect’ initiative would hopefully have a long term benefit that focuses on underage players but we have a problem in that regard, you can’t deny that.
“We always draw the parallel, even within the organisation, with rugby, where the referee starts with a position of respect. Unfortunately too often in our game that’s not the case.
“If you look at sport generally, referees in all sports make mistakes. In the Premier League, it happens every week. In rugby, after the World Cup final last year you had quite a lot of criticism. We don’t seem to tolerate any level of error on the part of referees. It’s our own people, particularly coming from our own people within the organisation. We demonize referees for every mistake that they make. We have a huge distance to travel and it’s something I wouldn’t be proud of. We have a real task ahead of us.
“It’s not going to be solved in one, or five years but we just have to change attitudes. Whether you do it through punishment or education, it’s probably a mixture of both. It’s a blot on the GAA, I accept that.
“Can I sit here and say that in 18 months or two years that things will be better right across the board? Probably not. But I would hope that at underage level that these incidents (verbal abuse of referees) will become less and less prevalent.”
So sound advice there from Paraic Duffy and lessons there that all parties concerned should heed . Let the players set a good example to future generations by the excellence of their performance on the field rather than “sledging” opponents and let GAA managers and other sideline mentors stop abusing referees.
That will not happen overnight and before it does it is essential that to help clean up our games the GAA must not hesitate to impose the severest of sanctions against those officials or players who bring our national games into disrepute especially when any physical attack takes place whether on the pitch or in the tunnel.
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