Some GAA leaders’ understanding of racism June 25, 2012Posted by Tomboktu in Gaelic Football, racism.
Last week, the national media reported that two wexford club players have been suspended for eight weeks because they made racist remarks about another player, Lee Chin, during a club game (reports in the Examiner here and here, Independent here, Times here, and RTÉ here). They were suspended by the Central Competitions Control Committee in Wexford GAA.
The following day, the Examiner reported (here) that the president of the GAA, Liam O’Neill, said “This has been dealt with in an exemplary fashion”.
Not enough information has been published about the details of the incident to enable us to judge if the eight-week suspension is strong enough. However, the Irish Times points out that the suspension is the minumum possible when a player has been found guilty of discrediting the GAA.
Worse, though, are the widely reported remarks of the Wexford GAA chairman, Diarmuid Devereux. It was fine when he said: “Any form of racism in the GAA cannot be tolerated. It is terrible that Lee was subjected to these comments on a GAA pitch and the players involved should be ashamed of their behaviour.”
But he displayed poor understanding of racism when he pointed out five facts about the vicitm of the racism: “Lee Chin is a Wexford man, born in Wexford, educated in Wexford, living and working in Wexford.”
Suppose instead for a moment that none of this were true. Imagine that instead Lee Chin had been born in Australia or China, that he is a Chinese citizen, was educated in Australia, and was not working or studying in Ireland. (That last one point is a stretch if he’s playing GAA football, but not impossible. People have been left in the asylum process for years without a right to work, or, if over 18, a right to education.) If that alternative were the case, would that make it OK for opponents to make racist remarks about him in a club game?
The reason the remarks during the game were wrong was that they were racist, not because he is a Wexford man. But by bringing up that part of Lee Chin’s background in a context where another part of it — his ethnic background — is the motivation for the wrong done to him, the GAA county chairman has not simply confused the matter, but lent credence to the idea that nationality or ethnic background are relevant in attacking racism. The irony is that this is precisely the same problem that is the source of racism: the use of nationality or ethnic background when it is not relevant.
I agree with Devereux’s conclusion: “The hope I have is that through education and promotion of ethnic policy, we will rid Gaelic games of such abuse.” The hope I have is that he undergoes some of that education. And Liam O’Neillmight benefit from some too.
 If none of the other facts were true, I suspect a player would would probably have to be living in Wexford to be allowed to play for a club there, meaning one of the five facts would have to be true, but that does not undermine my criticism of the serious flaw in Diarmuid Devereux’s thinking.