McCarthy aims 'for culture change' in the GAA

McCarthy aims ‘for culture change’ in the GAA

GAA president Larry McCarthy is aiming to change the culture of the organisation after a series of incidents in which referees have been physically abused blighted the association.

High-profile incidents of alleged assault in Roscommon and Wexford have put refereeing safety at the forefront of people’s minds.

On Thursday, the GAA launched their latest Respect the Ref campaign, which is geared towards increasing support systems and promoting respect for match officials.

“What has happened in the last couple of weeks is absolutely and utterly unacceptable,” said McCarthy.

“The respect for referees and working with referees and recruiting of referees has been part of the strategic plan since we launched it last week and this will give it an impetus to start.”

The GAA will hold a national Respect the Referee Day across the weekend of 22nd and 23rd of October in an attempt to reinforce the message that the abuse of match officials will not be tolerated.

However, the abuse of match officials is not just a GAA problem, it is a societal issue. Trying to implement a cultural change in attitudes towards referees will take time.

“It is extremely difficult and it’s a long, slow process of changing culture. It’s not going to be instantaneous.

“Supporting the referee, disciplinary processes, putting out the messages we’re going to be putting out next week are all part and parcel of it.

“But this is only a once-off. This is the start. We have to keep going and do it.”

GAA president McCarthy flanked by referees Colm Lyons (far left), David Coldrick, Thomas Gleeson and Sean Hurson

The inter-county scene this summer featured numerous instances of players being disciplined on the field of play by the referee before those decisions were eventually overturned by the Central Competitions Control Committee.

Clare’s Rory Hayes and Peter Duggan and Galway’s Cianan Fahy were all cleared to play in the All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals after having their suspensions lifted on appeal.

“I think the procedures could be strengthened, could be tightened up a little bit,” said McCarthy.

“We should look at some of the rules as well, particularly when they are applied at a local level. To a certain extent they are well applied at a national level, but when it gets to a local level the systems are different.”

When the referees submit their reports post-match, they are not involved further in the disciplinary process.

“Disciplinary committees are very important, that the right punishment is handed down and then it is held, it stands up,” said McCarthy.

“We need at one level to help referees to write reports which will stand up to scrutiny, but there is a whole clutter of things that we need to do in terms of supporting referees.

“We do have to strengthen up our processes and procedures to make sure that they feel supported.”

“David Coldrick said this to me yesterday: ‘Once I do my job and I report it I then have to leave it go to a certain extent and hand it over to the disciplinary process’.

“That’s our responsibility then to make sure that’s strong enough to support the referee, but the referee’s report must be written well to be able to support that as well.

“There are incidents, not a lot, but some people get off on minute technicalities which drive all of us crazy.

“We need to adopt the John Mullane mantra: ‘Do the crime, do the time.’”

Referee David Coldrick

With the recent high-profile incidents that have happened in Roscommon and Wexford, there were calls from some quarters to involve possible criminal investigation.

Asked on whether the Gardai should be involved in such instances, McCarthy responded:

“You’d have to ask the law that.

“When does a tackle or something on a pitch become an assault in the eyes of the law? I don’t know.”

During the brawl in the All-Ireland senior football quarter-final between Armagh and Galway, members of An Garda Síochána were pictured watching on as the incident occurred underneath the Cusack stand as the players were heading back for the dressing room.

In the days that followed the brawl, Charlie Flanagan, the former Minister for Justice called for a Garda investigation into what he called a “violent confrontation”.

“When it’s outside the rules, when does the law come onto the field? I don’t know when the law should come onto the field.

“That’s something you would have to ask the legal authorities,” said McCarthy.

“We don’t have any protocols for bringing the law into it. The law has to take its own course in terms of something happening.”

The brawl of the summer

The recruitment of new referees has increased post-Covid by over 100.

However, the problem lies in retaining them as many chose to give up the whistle after two or three years.

These issues affect the grassroots game more than it affects inter-county. McCarthy has looked on other sports for inspiration.

“Basketball have a very good way of doing things,” said McCarthy.

“So if the coach says something to a referee, all of a sudden the coach gets penalised, the team get penalised with free throws against them and they get loose possession [contested] of the ball.

“Is there something in there that we could do so that if you start verbally abusing a referee, he stops and gives you a warning?

“The next time it might be a 21-yard free or a penalty.

“Not only are you going to get a card for doing what you did, but the team is going to be punished as well.

“That’s something we might look at in terms of implementing a rule and changing the overall culture.”

Incremental change is slow and is something that the association recognises.

“The strategic plan is a five-year document,” said McCarthy.

“If we see an improvement over the course of those five years, it will be work well done.”

Listen to the draw for the 2023 GAA Championship on Saturday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1 with live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and RTÉ News app

Watch the Kerry senior football championship semi-final, Feale Rangers v Mid Kerry, on Saturday from 7.15pm live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player

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