Followers of hurling and the GAA will by now know about the incident that led to the abandoning of a challenge match at the Carrick Swans hurling club in Tipperary last Saturday. Indeed, many who have no interest in hurling or the GAA will know about it because it has now become the focus of another national crisis about racism.
The match itself was pretty inconsequential as it was part of the championship preparations for both teams, who might only meet one another in the latter stages of the All Ireland.
It’s main interest and attraction was that the proceeds were for the benefit of a Carrick Swans player Ryan O’Dwyer who was left paralysed after a road traffic accident in July 2022.
Towards the end of the match, in which Tipperary were winning by 20 points according to people who were there, there was a confrontation between players on the field (evidence of which can be seen in the video where a number of those involved have removed their helmets, or perhaps had their helmets removed!) which led to a comment from a spectator directed towards Wexford player Lee Chin.
The spectator in question can be heard to refer to Chin, who is of mixed Irish and Chinese parentage, as a “fucking Chinaman” – which is certainly racist, and which attracted the wrath of one of the Wexford players, Rory O’Connor.
O’Connor approached the person in question to point this out to him. When the comment was drawn to the attention of the referee, he apparently decided to abandon the match, in which there were only a few minutes remaining.
Cue national outrage. First of all it, ought to be pointed out that abusing players from the sideline is unacceptable, especially if it is specifically aimed at some distinguishing aspect of the player’s appearance or background or personal history. And yes, calling someone a “fucking Chinaman” fits into that category.
What is also pretty certain is that Lee Chin himself did not hear the abuse from where he was, although we do not know that for certain. He does have a Twitter page but has not commented on it. He has most likely also endured such abuse previously and from players on the field as well as spectators.
His Wexford team mates, the Wexford county board and a whole range of other persons in prominent positions within the GAA have come to his defence and have called for “zero tolerance” to be shown towards all such abuse and for the individual concerned, who Carrick Swans say has nothing to do with them, to be at the very least banned from GAA participation and perhaps even arrested and charged.
Among those to have their spake has been former GAA President and current Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly who has called for “strong penalties.” Fair enough, but does he find it hard to believe that racism at this level is “still prevalent” in sport. Or that supporters and sometimes players engage in abuse of a racial or other nature during matches? Or that any punishment of this chap will bring it to an end?
It should also be noted that when Fermanagh hurler Darren Graham claimed that he was subjected to sectarian abuse because he was a Protestant some years back that the Fermanagh county board and the GAA centrally declined to comment until an official complaint had been received. There are no such considerations here, it seems.
Nor was any action ever taken, to my knowledge, either by the GAA authorities or by the county boards to which the players and supporters concerned were affiliated following several incidents involving Antrim over recent years including during a hurling league game in 2022 against Waterford in which Antrim players and management claimed that opponents had abused them.
The alleged abuse, of a sectarian and political nature, was particularly ludicrous given where Antrim GAA is coming from, but then rationality rarely figures in such matters.
My point being that personalised abuse of opponents has always been and most likely always will a feature of any sport. Some of the greatest sports people of all time, like Muhammad Ali, made it a trademark. There have been GAA teams in the not so distant past who adopted “sledging” – often of a vile nature – as a key part of their game plan. To my knowledge no match was ever abandoned for that reason.
Which brings me to logically pose the following question: Should a referee abandon a match every time his attention is drawn to a player having been called a fat/ginger/black/nordie/Jackeen/queer/blind/knacker/junkie? Certainly if he hears at first hand, or from one of his assistants, that a player on the pitch or a member of the team management has been spouting such abuse – and by God they do! – then he is well within his rights to issue a sanction. A yellow card would be appropriate and a sending off if repeated.
But ought he abandon the match itself? And what if he overheard, or one of the sideline officials overheard, a spectator calling someone a fat/ginger/black/nordie/Jackeen/queer/blind/knacker/junkie bastard? Should he abandon the match in that circumstance?
What if it was the last three minutes of an All Ireland final? And as someone pointed out to me, if this becomes the norm then what is to prevent a player on a losing team abusing an opponent if the match will be called off?
Or would that only be as with the proposed “hate” legislation if the victim is a member of a “protected” category? Hard luck to most of you who fit into most of the abuse listed above.
It will be interesting then to see where this takes us. To conclude, it ought to be repeated that Lee Chin should certainly not be abused on account of his appearance or background. The vast majority of sane people know this and have little sympathy for the eijit who decided to vent his spleen in Carrick Swans. Nor for any of the other loud mouths you might have inflicted upon you in close proximity at a match.
Hand him a few months match ban if necessary. Don’t turn it into another irrational pile on, the logic of which has clearly been not been examined.