THE GAA HAS angrily defended itself against claims that it does not do enough to protect and encourage its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members.
Phil Prendergast, Labour MEP for Munster, criticized the Association in a statement on Monday and called on it take stronger measures to stamp out homophobia during matches.
In response, the GAA said that Prendergast was ”completely and utterly over the top” regarding the extent to which homophobia is a problem in the sport.
The comments followed a speech made by Cork hurling goalkeeper Dónal Óg Cusack at a gay pride festival in Northern Ireland last week.
In his address to open the Foyle Pride Festival in Derry, Cusack, one of Ireland’s few openly gay sports stars, described an incident in which he was verbally abused by a supporter during a match.
“I was disturbed, and if I’m truthful, upset, when he described the verbal abuse he suffers at the hands of a small cohort of supporters when representing his county,” Prendergast said.
He described individuals with megaphones shouting homophobic and slanderous insults at him while he was playing, which obviously begs the question, what is the GAA doing to protect and encourage LGBT players at both inter-county and local level?
Describing homophobia as “a form of hooliganism,” Prendergast called on the GAA to follow the example set by soccer authorities to combat anti-social behaviour in the stands.
“The GAA has specific policies for protection against sectarian and racial abuse, and I would like to see these policies strengthened and extended to cover abuse based on an individual’s sexuality,” she said.
“If the GAA truly is an all-community organisation, it needs to start examining the possibility of adopting soccer-style laws to combat hooliganism, such as the use of CCTV and police intelligence to identify these individuals, stadium bans and potentially criminal sanctions for those that engage in this destructive and offensive behaviour.
“In this day and age, the GAA has a responsibility to all of its members, gay and straight, to stamp this out.”
Speaking to TheScore.ie, a spokesperson for the GAA hit back at the implication that homophobia is a widespread problem at Gaelic games. He said that it was unfair for Prendergast to draw sweeping conclusions based on a single incident described in Cusack’s speech.
We’re very disappointed that a public representative would choose to hone in on one specific incident in what was a very long speech by a valued member of the GAA and a person of very high standing among his peers in the Gaelic Players’ Association.
We don’t have a widespread homophobic problem in the GAA or at least one that I’m aware of. To equate it with soccer hooliganism, as she did, and make reference to CCTV is completely and utterly over the top.
He continued: “Our full-time Integration and Inclusion Officer works hard to ensure that the message gets out that our games are for all people of all creeds and none, of all ethnic backgrounds, and for all people regardless of their sexual orientation.
“If someone brings to our attention that somebody is behaving in such a way, they will be tackled and challenged by our own stewarding team and also by An Garda Síochana who are present at all our games.
“We wouldn’t be backwards or slow to react and respond to behaviour of that nature, behaviour that has no place at any of our grounds or any of our games.”