Friday, May 05, 2006


GAA bringing ethnic backgrounds together

Well done to them all! I was delighted to hear that dozens of black and Asian boys and girls have taken up Gaelic football in England.

The BBC report that about 20,000 school children in England's west Midlands have started playing GAA as part of a UK government plan to get young people off the sofa and onto the playing fields.

Since the year 2000, schools with enthusiastic Irish teachers have used the programme to introduce Gaelic games to the curriculum.

It has been scoring ever since, with 4,000 playing every year since then.

Leighton Padotan, who is from South Africa and now mentors kids in the west Midlands, said:

"I think it's really brilliant, the way an Irish game links so many different ethnic backgrounds. Especially in our school: a socially deprived school.

"The kids are from different ethnic minority backgrounds - loads of different nationalities and languages - but they take to the game very quickly."

Becky Daley, 16, who has won an All-Ireland under-14s skills medal had this to say:

"It's a sport everyone can play.

"It's easy to pick up and it doesn't exclude people. Anyone who wants to can play it, if they enjoy it."

One of the driving forces behind the popularity of the game is Dublin-born teacher Brian Roberts but he is exasperated at the limited support he is receiving from all quarters:

"Without the appropriate funding, our scheme won't be able to continue. Croke Park does help us financially to a certain extent, but we're also looking for local business and agencies to put finance behind us.

"At the end of the day, the sport's not going to continue if you can't afford to put a ball in the hand of a kid or put on some tournament at the end of an eight week training period."

I must say I'm delighted to see Gaelic games taking off in these areas of England. Regardless of what one thinks of the GAA, and I've been critical of them myself in the past, the bottom line is that the Gaelic games themselves are enjoyable sports. (Though personally I've never enjoyed hurling...)

I'd be disappointed if people like Brian Roberts weren't given more backing by the GAA because this type of thing needs to be encouraged.

We're all aware of course about how the majority of unionists find Gaelic games anathema but I hope at some point in the future they will endeavour to give it a chance like these kids in England have done.

These English children don't look on the sport as having political connotations and the same was true of myself when I played GAA in school as a boy.

It's a bit of fun and it can bring communities together. Isn't that the kind of thing that NI needs?


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