EARLIER this week the Evening Standard newspaper in London had a photo of Boris Johnson and his girlfriend on its front page under the banner, “Boris’s Show of Unity.”
This front-page splash came just three days after police were called to the potential new Prime Minister’s flat following reports of a domestic incident. The
Evening Standard’s editor is David Cameron’s right-hand man and previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne, and call me sceptical but picturesque snap of Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds did seem a little contrived as it could be mistaken for an Ikea advert peddling their latest brand of garden furniture.
We are consistently being fed reports of fake news and biased media by populist and demagogue throughout the world, from Trump in the west to Putin in the east – but when it comes to responsible sports reporting – does the GAA get a fair shake compared to other sports?
Case in point – just this week the Irish Rugby Football Association (IRFU) issued a press release relating to an incident involving Irish open side flanker Sean O’Brien. The statement issued to the Irish Independent read as follows:
“The IRFU have investigated an incident of inappropriate behaviour by a player which occurred on 26th May 2019,”
“The player has expressed his deep regret and has been sanctioned in line with the provisions of his contract. The player has apologised to the individual involved. The IRFU, and the player, regret any upset that this incident has caused.”
You would be doing well to find anything more than the above statement online – even the Indepedant.ie themselves dedicated only four paragraphs to the incident, two of which involved the inclusion of the statement itself.
Furthermore, GameOn.ie didn’t even mention the player’s name in its report. The lack of coverage of the incident which involved, O’Brien allegedly (key to insert that wording) urinating on another man in Cassidy’s Pub on Camden Street where he and the rest of the Leinster rugby team was celebrating, is shocking, especially given that O’Brien has for many years been one of the most high profile rugby players for Leinster, Ireland and the Lions.
To give some context to this, imagine the media foray that would have followed had Michael Murphy, fresh from captaining Donegal to the Ulster title, been involved in a similar incident. I doubt a blasé statement from the Donegal County Board would have sufficed.
It is also worth pointing out that on the same week the statement was issued by the IRFU, many column inches were devoted to amateur Dublin GAA player
Diarmuid Connolly and the fact that he has decided to play football in Boston this summer instead of returning to the Dublin panel.
A personal decision Connolly is completely entitled to make given his service to Dublin and noting that Gaelic football, even in Dublin, remains an amateur sport. The undertones of the reports on Connolly suggest he is to receive recompenses for his services Stateside and somehow this is something to be admonished.
I wrote previously about the extent of the outcry around the Tiernan McCann incident during the Donegal v Tyrone game in the Ulster Championship, and as incongruous as McCann’s actions were, the column inches devoted to the on-field incident involving an amateur GAA player as opposed to the derisory behaviour of a professional rugby player is quite breath-taking.
The question to be posed, in my mind at least, is why such incidents relating to the GAA are being reported widely on and dealt with so differently to other sports? Surely O’Brien’s alleged transgression and how it has been dealt with by the IRFU should be widely commented on and the player and the IRFU held to some form of public account?
Maybe this week was a good week to bury bad news, just ahead of the seasonal holiday period, and perhaps that is why Leinster Rugby also released its own statement on a former Leinster player Stanley Wright who allegedly knocked out an Leinster Academy player during a bar room brawl. Luckily however
Leinster’s statement reports the player, “has made a full recovery” – that’s fine then, nothing to see here.
Again had it been a senior GAA player knocking out a member of a development squad at a team function, we may well have seen a difference attitude to the reporting of such matters.
Boris will inevitably be the next Prime Minster helped in no small part by the snap that his former colleague placed on the front page of the paper he edits.
That is why responsible journalism matters and it remains an ongoing battleground, especially in today’s era of clickbait and declining hard copy circulation numbers.
That being said, there is still a need for serious incidents to be fully reported on as it is undoubtedly in the public interest to do so. If the media do not have the fortitude report such incidents in the face of outside pressures, who else is going to hold public figures to account? I am told that this is rugby country after all…