GAA President Larry McCarthy has called for legislation in order to punish those who make what the GAA has called, “severe, personal, and excessive criticism” of amateur athletes and volunteers.
Speaking at Seanad Éireann yesterday McCarthy said, “There is, to use the words of US sports commentator Bob Costas, “a corrosive assault on civility” taking place in relation to sport and sports people through the medium of social media,” adding, “Maybe through mainstream media as well, but less so.
Continuing his address he said that “”It should be realised that what one says matters, what one writes matters, what one puts in the public domain matters,”
“By all means let people express an opinion, but let it be done in a manner that is respectful. The abuse that many players, volunteers and officials have been subjected to in recent years is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.
“Let us stop the cowardly attacks on people who are volunteering their time and talent for the betterment of society. Let us stop the unwarranted assaults on people’s characters and the nefarious condemnations of amateur sports people.”
Calling for protection from hurtful remarks he said that the GAA must ask itself what can be done about the issue.
“Given that we are at heart a sport organisation, I believe that a protection of amateur athletes and officials, in particular GAA, LGFA and Camogie players, through legislation should be investigated,” he said.
He asked that the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media consider implementing a protection of volunteers in amateur sport act.
“This could entail the design and implementation of a means to initially identify, and then penalise, people who abuse amateur athletes and volunteer sport officials.” he said, adding, “One might ask why only amateurs?”
“Amateur athletes and officials”, he said, “return to their communities and are back at work shortly after their games, and, unlike professional athletes, are not the beneficiaries of practiced support when they are the focus of such criticism”.
McCarthy argued that the “very nature” of amateur sport suggests that “they are the most vulnerable”.
“I acknowledge the difficulty involved in the identification process, and that there may be a fundamental peril in the danger of restricting speech in a democratic society,” he said, posing the question if Irish society was at a point where “a formal, legislated, deterrent of social media abuse is warranted,”.
McCarthy asked whether “abuse in online forums” could be treated in the same way as ‘misinformation about political events’.