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‘It happens all the time’ – Killarney’s black athletes tell of shocking racial abuse

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In Part I of a three-part series on racism in Irish sport, Adam Moynihan speaks to some local black athletes about the discrimination they face both on and off the pitch.

 

In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer (and his colleagues), fires have raged across the Unites States and cries of injustice have been heard all around the world.

Ireland is making noise too. Irish social media has been brimming with #BlackLivesMatter posts this past week and a march in Dublin on Monday drew upwards of 4,000 protesters, all eager to show their support for the continually oppressed African-American community.

It’s great to see such solidarity, it really is, but isn’t it curious how we can be so loud when racism happens far away - when it's an "American problem" - yet so quiet when it happens over here?

This week I spoke to some black sportsmen who call, or have called, Killarney home. If for some reason you don’t want to believe that racism exists in this part of the world, you might want to look away now. (Please don't actually look away. You need to see this more than anyone.)

HURT

Ozzy de Quadros is a black, Brazilian-born tattoo artist who moved to Killarney 18 years ago. He quickly got involved with Killarney Athletic as a coach of an underage team and as a player at senior level. For Ozzy, racism has been a factor from the very start, both in and out of sport.

“I’m here since 2002 and it happens all the time,” he explains. “And I come from South America where people always call each other names - it’s just their nature – so I didn’t grow up with this mentality that I get offended really easily.

“I came here because I was going out with the mother of my children, who is Irish and white, and sometimes we would be out walking and we would both get abused. It was mostly older people, seeing a black guy with a white girl. I’m a grown man so I don’t get traumatised by these things but when it happens to kids, it’s not good for them.”

It must hurt on some level, though?

“Oh, it does. It hurts. It’s not going to stop me living my life, but it hurts.”

Ozzy, now 43 years of age, has also experienced racism in sporting contexts during his time in Ireland. In 2012, a troubling incident during a match against another local club was made even more distressing by the fact that he was with his two young sons at the time.

“Actually, I didn’t hear anything that day,” he says. “I was beside the pitch with my two kids. I was just supporting my club like everyone else there, but the [opposition player] didn’t want to see a black man shouting for Athletic.

“One of the (Killarney Athletic) guys next to me said, ‘did you hear what he said to you?’. I said I didn’t. He said, ‘he called you a n*****’.

“Some of the Athletic players (who had also heard the slur) told the referee but the referee didn’t want to do anything. He didn’t give him a red card. The club didn’t do anything. I posted on Facebook explaining what had happened and for a while people supported me. They said, ‘oh, that’s horrible’ and so on. But they didn’t go further than that. Nobody actually came to me and said ‘look, this is what you can do’. It never happened.”

Ozzy believes that instances of racial abuse are more frequent and more aggressive now than they were when he first arrived, a claim that is supported by the Irish Network Against Racism who say that racist incidents doubled in the first quarter of this year alone. It’s a worrying trend, especially when one considers the fact that this country still doesn’t have proper laws to deal with hate crime.

“There has definitely been an increase in verbal attacks,” Ozzy says. “In 2002, you knew that racist people weren’t going to talk to you or whatever, but they weren’t violent in the way they expressed their anger towards other ethnicities. Now, this could happen three, four, five times a night in a nightclub and nobody does anything.

"I don’t know where this hate is coming from.”

AN EVERYDAY REALITY

Coincidentally another black athlete, Brian Okwute, also came to Killarney in 2002, although he was just a baby at the time. Now a 19-year-old student who studies business in IT Tralee, Okwute became the first ever black player to line out for the Killarney Legion seniors when he made his debut in the East Kerry League earlier this year.

The son of a South African mother and a Nigerian father, Brian says that racism is an everyday reality for him and his family.

“It’s something we just have to live with,” he says. “It happens often, especially on nights out. Sometimes you might hear, ‘you n*****’ out of nowhere. It’d be lads in their twenties or older. I’d say they’re drunk as well, but it’s still not acceptable.

“One time I remember I was walking down through town with my friend and this guy just goes, ‘n*****’. I was like, ‘what?!’. We were so angry, we wanted to fight him, but we just walked away. What’s going to be your defence? He called you a ‘n******’ and nothing’s really going to happen to him, but you assaulted him?

“It does bother me, and it bothers my friends. But you kind of get used to it.”

 

[caption id="attachment_32221" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Brian with his Legion teammates Peter and Eoghan O'Sullivan.[/caption]

 

Brian is a talented Gaelic footballer and he played a starring role for the Legion minor team who won the County League Division 1 title last year. It’s a happy memory for the young midfielder, who says the club have welcomed him with open arms since he joined in 2015.

Unfortunately, his time in the GAA hasn’t all been plain sailing. When he was 17, a minor match descended into a mass brawl when Brian was racially abused by an opponent.

“It was one of those games,” he recalls. “It was tight and tensions were high. This guy pushed me, I pushed him back, he went for a swing and he missed, I went for a swing and I hit him. He was on the floor and the next thing you know he just said, ‘you black c***’.

“To be fair, my teammates stood up for me and I was very happy about that. But I was honestly very hurt.

"I don’t understand why someone has to call me a ‘black c***’. Why can’t he just call me a ‘c***’?”

Okwute received the full backing of his teammates and coaches in the aftermath of the verbal attack but, even though the referee reported it, the player in question was not suspended. The player’s club attempted to set up a meeting so he could offer an apology but, upset by the fact that the perpetrator hadn’t been punished, Brian refused.

“I didn’t want anything to do with it.”

Sadly, Brian’s younger brother, Daniel, was also subjected to racist abuse while playing underage soccer for Killarney Celtic. The incident reduced the boy to tears.

The elder Okwute says the killing of George Floyd made him "sick to [his] stomach" but he is regrettably all-too-familiar with the concept of prejudice.

“If you’re black, you’ve definitely experienced racism at one point,” he says. “You kind of get used to it and brush it off like it never happened. You move on. But it’s not easy. I know I’m going to be racially abused at least once every year.

"Someone is going to say something to me.”

TRUMP

Ohio native Aaron Jackson played National League basketball for the Scotts Lakers last season and although he says he felt "more comfortable being black in Ireland than being black in America”, he was also racially abused during his time here.

“I’m positive that my presence bothered certain people but it’s just more obvious in America, especially since Donald Trump has been elected,” Jackson says.

 

[caption id="attachment_32222" align="aligncenter" width="959"] Aaron Jackson in action for Scotts Lakers. Pic: Eamonn Keogh.[/caption]

 

“In Killarney, I can only remember one time that really stood out to me and was blatant racism. My teammate X (Xavier Talton, a fellow black player) and I were walking home one night from a pub and a car full of fellas were heckling us. They said, ‘n*****s, go back to where you came from’.

“Personally, we brushed it off because we have probably heard it hundreds of times growing up in the States. It wasn’t until that night that it was solidified to me that racism lives everywhere. Although I felt hurt in the moment by it, I brushed it off because I met so many great Irish people who saw no colour at all.”

ANTI-RACIST

A quote attributed to political activist Angela Davis has gained a lot of traction this week: “it’s not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist”.

For their part, Ozzy and Brian echo these sentiments and say that white allies need to call out discrimination whenever they see it.

Brian, who would also like to see harsher penalties for those found guilty of racial abuse, says he understands why some individuals don’t get involved.

"But if that was your son," he asks, "how would you feel? You have to put yourself in our shoes.”

“It’s Ireland so everybody knows everybody,” Ozzy adds. “They’re afraid to offend the people they know, or get involved in a fight with someone, so they don’t stand up for those who are not from here. People are good but they don’t do enough.

“The good thing is that there are a lot more nice people in Ireland than bad people. They just need to be more vocal when it comes to standing up for what they believe in. That’s all.”

UNTOLD STORIES

These are the abbreviated accounts of just three black men who reside, or have resided, in our sleepy little town. There are many more untold black stories in Killarney alone and (if I can get up on my high horse about my hometown for a second) if it’s happening here, it’s happening everywhere. There is no question about that: racism exists in every town in every county in Ireland.

At times in this country it seems as though we can only see issues like racism through a telescope. Despite our remote location, faraway problems are easy to find and explore and examine.

Unfortunately, there’s one thing that telescopes are notoriously bad at. They can’t help us to see things that are right in front of our face.

 

In the coming weeks we'll be speaking to people of various ethnicities and nationalities about their experiences with racism on and off the pitch. If you'd like to share your story, please contact Adam in confidence: sport@killarneyadvertiser.ie

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Eileen rewarded for her dedication to athletics

By Sean Moriarty Well-known Dalton’s Avenue woman Eileen Switzer has been named as the Honorary President of Killarney Valley Athletic Club in recognition of her work as a volunteer. The club held its annual awards night on Friday night last. As well as presenting awards to club members in recognition of their achievements at home […]

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By Sean Moriarty

Well-known Dalton’s Avenue woman Eileen Switzer has been named as the Honorary President of Killarney Valley Athletic Club in recognition of her work as a volunteer.

The club held its annual awards night on Friday night last.

As well as presenting awards to club members in recognition of their achievements at home and abroad they decided to honour Mrs Switzer for her “lifetime of volunteering to the community, to sport, to youth and for championing diversity and inclusion”.

“Eileen has been an advocate, a coach and an administrator in the sport of athletics for over 60 years in the town of Killarney, Kerry and beyond,” said club chair Jerry Griffin.

Eileen and her husband Frank have dedicated their lives to the community games and athletics in the greater Killarney area.

“I enjoy, but I don’t like, all the limelight,” she told the Killarney Advertiser.

“I like to watch newcomers as they come up through the ranks, many of the Community Games people of the past are now running the committee.”

In a life time dedicated to volunteerism in Killarney Eileen has helped sports like golf, pitch and putt and badminton grow.  She was also heavily involved in the local Irish dancing scene and remains a great supporter of Kerry Parents and Friends.

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Eamonn Fitzgerald: How to improve the modern game

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Fixing the tackle, binning the bin and cutting the numbers… Former Kerry goalkeeper Eamonn Fitzgerald puts forward a number of measures that he feels would rejuvenate Gaelic football

In recent weeks most of the discussion on Kerry football has centred on the appointment of Jack O’Connor as manager of the Kerry senior football team. The Sam Maguire hasn’t returned to Kerry since locals Kieran O’Leary and Fionn Fitzgerald lifted the Holy Grail in 2014. The domination of the Dubs with the six-in–a row and the disappointments of the past three years, when Peter Keane was very unlucky not to manage Kerry to victory, has led to a deeper frustration among the Kerry supporters.

Some followers of football are losing interest in the game as it is played today. Some say they don’t bother going to games anymore, because the style of football has deteriorated into a mixture of basketball and athletics.

The romanticised recollections of the high-fielding of Mick O’Connell and the marking your own man, thou shalt not pass type of football is largely gone. Joe Keohane, Teddy O’Connor, Paddy Bawn, Paudie O’Shea and a host of others made sure that the opposition’s attackers never got a chance to have an unchallenged shot at the goalkeeper. Zonal defence, how are you?

THE  TACKLE

Mick O’Dwyer always said that there is no really clearly defined tackle in Gaelic football, and I agree fully with him. He saw it from three sides: as a defender, attacker and manager. I talked to him many times about this.

There are three basic types of tackle in Gaelic football: (a) the side tackle, the most common one, (b) the front tackle, (c) the tackle from behind. The referee is the sole judge and has to decide if it is a free in or a free out. Types (b) and (c) don’t pose any real difficulties in decision making. Both are fouls. But a shoulder to shoulder is allowable. However, if a player gets a fair shoulder and falls to the ground, invariably the referee favours the fallen one.

One Kerry football defender of the past perfected the ideal ruse. When he was slowing up in his latter days with Kerry and he faced a jinking speedster, he ushered him out towards the sideline, gave his customary right belt of a shoulder, and then assisted the forward with a helping hand to ensure he stayed on his feet. Free out. Over-playing the ball.

The rule regarding tackling states that you must use one hand and one hand only, but the problem is: what does a defender actually do with that one hand, as opposed to what he is allowed do.

Tackling in Gaelic Football is confined to tackling the ball. It is illegal to trip, punch, hold, drag, pull or rugby tackle another player.

For defenders all you can do safely without conceding a free in is to shadow the opponent with both arms outstretched, doing a sprightly dance like David Rea’s Riverdance, hoping you can entice/force the forward out to the sideline where he is least likely to score. Two hands draw the foul. Of course, some defenders play to the optics using the one hand and raising up the other hand so that the ref thinks he is not fouling. What is the defender doing with that hand? Playing the ball trying to punch it out from the attacker? If that hand delivers a punch to the solar plexus, so be it, as the referee is usually unsighted. Or, as happens too often in club games, the referee is not up with the game and cannot see what is really happening. As he makes his way to the scene, I believe that he is unduly influenced by the roar of the crowd. “Free in, ref!”. Thank you very much says Seánie O’Shea and Dean Rock.

Rugby is very clear-cut when it come to the defined tackle and to some extent in soccer, where the sliding tackle is not acceptable.

While there is some credence in the perception of these disillusioned football followers, who long for the Kerry football style of the good old days, I don’t see it through the same rose-tinted glasses. Too often in the past the hard man was lauded for his physical prowess and not for his skills. I can see the merit of the modern possession game, but not endless lateral hand-passing, the fulcrum for launching a successful game strategy, which was one good reason why Dublin won six-in-a-row. They were also a great team.

You’re a loser all the way with Dean Rock and Seánie O’Shea delivering almost 100%. Take a recent game as an example. Seánie kicked 15 points versus Dr Crokes and 14 of those were frees, from any distance from 45 metres inwards. The winning score was 17 points. So a reliable free-taker is essential on any team.  He repeated the performance on Sunday last by scoring 11 points to squeeze past Dingle. The scoring in football games nowadays is very high and even more so in hurling.

PITY THE REFEREE

I have great sympathy for the referee in football and have never commented on the performance of the referees in these pages, unless I attended the game. Second-hand accounts are biased, unreliable and unacceptable. When I attend games in person, I comment on the performance of the referee, but never personalise these comments. It is a judgement on performance not on the referee as a person.

Quite simply, I respect referees. I believe they have an impossible job. It’s tough enough at intercounty level but pity the ref in some local game where he does not have neutral umpires or linesmen. The ref should apply the rules, but also apply common sense, knowing the difference between a deliberate intentional foul and body contact where the player is playing the ball, not the man. No free or card for such, even if the player falls to the ground.

The modern game has evolved and there is much to recommend it, but I believe that it can be made much more enjoyable for players and spectators by making necessary changes

IMPROVEMENTS

Some of the he rules are not clear-cut, particularly the tackle.

Rid the game of the mark. The idea was that it would reward high-fielding, a wonderful but fast–fading feature of the game. It has not done that, particularly around the middle of the park. Midfield is often bypassed today and worst of all a mark is allowed for a player near goal, who manages to catch a low ball stumbling to the ground and raises his hand within a few seconds to signal his achievement. Did he, or did he not, raise his hand? Invariably the referee awards the mark and a simple tap over for a certain point, which may be the winning score.

Learn from the women’s game. The LGFA has got it right with the clock (in major venues) taking the timing of games away from the referees. The same happens in basketball. The clock stops when there is a hold up in play. Then there are no grounds for dispute. I have seen too many games where the referee played too much overtime, or too little, and the winning scores came during the extended time. Recently I witnessed 13 minutes added on by a referee. There is a lot of stoppage time in 13 minutes.

Spectators have watches and stopwatches/timers on their phones, so then the arguments commence. That time added on is at the discretion of the referee. He has too much to do already and more advisory discretion should be given to umpires and linesmen. In the absence of a clock, let the other officials bear that responsibility.

Get rid of the water-breaks too. Too often they influence the flow of the play. Pardon the pun, but too often they also change the run of play.

13-A-SIDE

I would love to see the teams reduced to 13 players. Take out the full back and the full forward, create more space and set the scene for more open football. I have seen it used very successfully at colleges level and it is a joy to watch. Also, it would help rural clubs in particular, who are hard pressed to have 15 players available due to depopulation and other factors. It would help clubs to field their own team instead of being forced to join up with their neighbouring parish, probably their greatest rivals for many years. Amalgamations are undesirable, but often necessary. I think of South Kerry clubs in particular.

There is an argument to get rid of all referees’ cards, red, yellow and black. For a start dump the black card. As it is, some players feign injuries, waste time and run down the clock. The 10-minute penalty and 14 players effectively means the sin-binned player returns after seven, six or dare I say five minutes. The timekeeper is the ref. He is not God almighty and he has enough to do.

The modern game of football has plenty going for it, but there are responsibilities on the GAA authorities, the referees, the managers and the players to improve the enjoyment of the game. Ditto for the spectators, the hurlers on the ditch, or in this case the footballers on the terraces. Too many are not conversant with the new rules. It is hard to blame them; there has been too much tricking around with the rules governing football that it can be hard to know the updated position.

That situation with local club rivalry and natural bias leads to misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the facts and rules that leads to difference of opinions, to put it very mildly.

Pity the poor ref having to make instant decisions, de facto on his own. Video analysis is not confined just to The Sunday Game. Many club games are also filmed. The ref can’t win. Who would want to be a referee? Certainly not for the money – a very modest €40 for a local senior game.

Is it a just reward for running the gauntlet of some players, or a few officials who spend half their time encroaching onto the pitch, and the tirade of abuse from spectators, usually personal, misguided and unwarranted?

Who’s reffing the game on Sunday next?

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