A senior County Fermanagh GAA player Darren Graham has quit the sport because of persistent sectarian abuse inspired by his protestant background.
Whilst the news has been greeted with something approaching excitement by some unionists, I find the story neither surprising nor particularly shocking. This sectarianism exists in many facets of society and in other sports also.
As a Northern Ireland supporter, however, it is hard not to recall the media frenzy which accompanied Neil Lennon quitting the Northern Ireland team and to harbour a tiny inkling of desire that the same outrage greets a very similar story.
In contrast to Irish Football Association, the Gaelic Athletic Association retains an overtly political constitution and its history is firmly grounded in an exclusive Catholic, Gaelic nationalism. The following are extracts from that constitution:
”Basic Aim The Association is a National Organisation which has as its basic aim the strengthening of the National Identity in a 32 County Ireland through the preservation and promotion of Gaelic Games and pastimes.”
“Membership of the Association shall be granted only by a Club, to persons who subscribe to and undertake to further the aims and objects of the Gaelic Athletic Association, as stated in the Official Guide.”
Whilst the Association may not be overtly religiously sectarian it s ethos is blatantly not inclusive and actually its constitution explicitly discourages unionists from membership. Hardly an ethos which discourages the more Neanderthal forms of prejudice suffered by Mr Graham.
GAA fans rightly point out that their sports have transcended their political roots and become popular, exciting spectacles watched by devotees whose primary interest lies far from the governing organisation’s archaic constitution. Whilst such anachronisms exist, however, it is within unionists’ rights to question how welcome they are within the sport and point out the political partiality which separates Gaelic games from other mainstream sport.
Such cultural whataboutery may be frustrating for sports fans and unconstructive generally but it is also inevitable and is in this case within the organisation’s power to eradicate.