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Dublin: 2 °C Wednesday 26 November, 2014

Column: Sports can play a positive role in combating racism

Racism exists in Ireland, but sports groups – and individual players – are well placed to tackle it, writes Garrett Mullan, Coordinator of Show Racism the Red Card.

Garrett Mullan

IMAGINE A 16-year-old girl who’s obsessed with sports. Camogie is her game of choice. She plays it as much as she can, training on a daily basis and competing with her local club at weekends.

Now imagine that girl standing on a pitch, hearing her opponents – and, worse, their parents in the crowd – jeer and taunt her and call her horrible names.

The reason? She’s black.

Her parents moved to Ireland from Africa almost a decade ago. She has been brought up here and considers herself Irish, but to some people she doesn’t fit the bill of how a camogie-player should look. So they think it’s okay to heap abuse on a child – a child who just wants to enjoy playing a game she loves.

That’s the story of Marie*, just one of the young people featured on a new Show Racism the Red Card DVD. Her story is not unique.

Harrowing stories about racist abuse

Over the past six months, I’ve travelled to schools and sports clubs throughout Ireland to gather testimonies and footage for our new DVD. Along the way, I’ve met lots of young people who told me harrowing stories about racist abuse.

One teenager I met moved to Dublin from Lithuania when she was a very young child. Her experiences of racism started when she was only eight years old: other children in the school playground would tell her to go back to her own country.

Wexford’s dual GAA star Lee Chin – someone who has himself been a victim of racism in a very public setting – speaks about a friend of his sister who experienced suicidal feelings because of racist abuse. She was 10 years old.

Stories such as this illustrate a stark fact: racism persists in Ireland and is relatively commonplace. The Immigrant Council of Ireland, which runs a support and referral service for those who experience or witness racist incidents, recorded one serious incident of racism every week last year.  And a survey by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland in 2010 found that almost half of teachers had witnessed racism in the classroom.

The role sports can play in combating racism

The 21st March is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the 2013 theme for the Day is ‘racism and sport’. The theme was chosen by the UN to highlight the problem of racism in sports but also – crucially – to raise awareness of the role sports can play in combating racism.

In Ireland, the issue of racism in sports has been getting increased attention in recent months. Individual players – such as Lee Chin and Crossmaglen’s Aaron Cunningham – have been to the fore in challenging racist attitudes.

Last week, Dublin football manager Jim Gavin called for the GAA to show zero tolerance to racism. And, earlier this week, Dessie O’Farrell, Chief Executive Officer of the Gaelic Players’ Association (GPA), said racist abuse, where witnessed on the playing field, should be a red-card offence.

Outside of Gaelic games, other sports organisations have also been proactive. Show Racism the Red Card worked with the FAI and the IRFU – in addition to the GAA and the GPA – in producing our new DVD. Sports stars from a variety of disciplines are featured, including Ireland internationals Seamus Coleman and Seán St. Ledger; GAA stars Barry Cahill and Cliona O’Connor; and Leinster and Ireland rugby player Seán O’Brien.

These sports stars are role models to young people and, as such, have the potential to positively influence them. By lending their support to Show Racism the Red Card, they are helping to educate people and to challenge racism.

Education is critical

Education is critical in combating racism. Our new DVD is part of an anti-racism education pack that was launched earlier this week. The pack is available to schools and youth groups throughout Ireland, and contains activities and exercises aimed at promoting respect for diversity and informing young people about how to respond to racism.

Many schools are already actively involved in anti-racism projects and, over the coming months, Show Racism the Red Card plans to engage with the Department of Education to explore how anti-racism initiatives can be more formally built into the schools system.

We all have a role to play in tackling racism. The ruling bodies in sport must ensure there are rigorous penalties in place to quash racism on the playing field. The Government must lead by example at a national policy level. Schools and sports clubs must ensure they provide training and information to their pupils and members. And we – as parents, spectators and fans – must ensure we do not tolerate racism in sport or in any setting.

* Not her real name

Garrett Mullan is Coordinator of Show Racism the Red Card Ireland. He previously worked as a social careworker with young people in care, and as Probation and Welfare Officer and Researcher/Outreach Worker with Dublin Simon Community. While studying for a degree and masters in Sociology and Social Research, Garrett was inspired by the work of Show Racism the Red Card in the UK, and resolved to bring the project to Ireland. As a result, Show Racism the Red Card Ireland was established in 2006.

Further information about Show Racism the Red Card is available at .  To view footage from the DVD launched by Show Racism the Red Card earlier this week, click here.

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