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.)
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.”
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.”
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.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Crokes hurlers set for senior championship bow
Sunday will be a momentous day for Dr Crokes GAA as the club’s hurlers are set to participate in the Kerry Senior Hurling Championship for the first time.
The Crokes famously won the Intermediate in 2020 and after exercising their right to graduate to the top level, they now face into the daunting task of negotiating the rough and tumble of the top tier.
The Killarney club will take on four-time champions Abbeydorney in their first Group 1 pool game, with throw-in at Austin Stack Park at 1.30pm. O’Dorney are sure to provide a stern test; they reached the last four of last year’s competition before exiting at the hands of eventual winners Kilmoyley.
Two teams from each of the three groups of three will progress to the knockout phase.
Crokes will be hoping that the likes of Kerry senior Michael Lenihan and his brother Jack can lead the way on Sunday, while Kerry U20 footballer and accomplished soccer player Tom Doyle is also considered to be a real talent.
Elsewhere in the Kerry SHC, champions Kilmoyley will get the defence of their title up and running against Ballyheigue tonight at 7.30pm, and last year’s beaten finalists Causeway will do battle with St Brendan’s on Saturday at 7pm.
Neighbours Spa and Crokes vying for Division 1 final
Killarney rivals Spa and Dr Crokes will face off in Round 5 of the Kerry Senior Football League on Saturday with the winners advancing to the Division 1 league final. The match will take place in Lewis Road at 5pm.
Crokes currently lead the way in Division 1A with seven points from four matches, with Spa one point behind having won two, drawn one and lost one of their four fixtures to date. The new competition structure, which was devised to reduce the amount of games and travel required for all teams involved, sees the top team from each pool (1A and 1B) meet in the decider.
In the other pot, Kerin’s O’Rahilly’s are favourites to finish first as they currently sit on top of the pile with seven points. The Killarney Legion are still in contention – they find themselves just one point behind in second – but Rahilly’s will fancy themselves to win their final group phase match against bottom-of-the-table Beaufort. Legion travel back west to play An Ghaeltacht in Gallarus.
Beaufort have already been relegated to Division 2 for 2022 on the back of four consecutive defeats and they will be joined in D2 by the bottom-placed team in Division 1A. Kilcummin currently occupy that position but they can claw their way out of danger with a final day victory over Austin Stacks.
The second-from-bottom team in each pool will also meet in a playoff to decide the third and final team to be relegated to Division 2. These places will go down to the wire with John Mitchels and Stacks in the firing line in 1A and Rathmore, Kenmare Shamrocks and An Ghaeltacht all potential candidates in 1B.
In the second division, Castleisland Desmonds can secure their promotion back to the top table by defeating Na Gaeil in their final fixture, thereby securing top spot in Division 2A. It’s all to play for in 2B as Templenoe, Gneeveguilla and Ballymacelligott are joint top on six points apiece.
The runners-up in both pools will also play each other to decide the third team to be promoted with Glenbeigh-Glencar and St Mary’s in contention in 2A. They will duke it out for that final spot when they meet in Glenbeigh on Saturday; in fact, the winners will secure automatic promotion if Desmonds lose to Na Gaeil in Tralee.
The Dr Crokes B team are currently facing the chop as they sit bottom of 2A on zero points, but they can avoid automatic relegation by beating the team directly above them (Ballydonoghue) away from home on Sunday. Listry can do likewise in 2B if they can get the better of Dromid Pearses in Listry. If Crokes and Listry do the needful, they will meet in a relegation playoff to see who will retain their Division 2 status.
Churchill and Listowel lead the way in Division 3A with Laune Rangers, Milltown/Castlemaine and Brosna in the running in 3B. Glenflesk are safe but the same cannot be said of Currow, who will need to defeat St Senan’s to have any hope of avoiding the drop.
Firies are in pole position in Division 4A with Renard and then Fossa gunning for top spot in 4B. Stacks B and Cordal are in pole position in Divisions 5A and 5B, and it’s all to play for in Division 6 as the B teams of Dingle, Firies, Fossa, Kenmare, Glenflesk and Rathmore, as well as the Dr Crokes C team and Tuosist, are all still in the mix for promotion.
Full fixture list and tables can be found on the Kerry GAA website and across the Kerry GAA social media channels.
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