I BECAME involved with Sports Against Racism in Ireland (SARI) in 1997 when two friends — Ken McHugh and Frank Buckley — approached me about establishing something to deal with a rise in the number of racist attacks taking place in Dublin.
We decided the optimal way to do this was through the medium of sport — it has a way of bringing people together like few other activities — and we held our first ever Festival of Football in July of 1997. It was held on the Law Society Pitch and we had 12 teams taking part.
Some 23 years later, we now work with a host of national governing bodies across Ireland to strive for better diversity and inclusion across every sport.
Every country is different when it comes to the issue of race and racism — because every country has cultural differences. America is very different because slavery is deeply engrained in the cultural history of the country, while in the UK there is the emphasis on monarchy.
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that people began to see Ireland as a place to come to prosper and strive for a better life, so it’s not until then that we saw a huge influx of migrants and it was on the back of this influx and some public reaction to it that SARI was established.
We do have racism here in Ireland, and we do need to challenge it, but I think that the people here have a lot of goodwill and a lot of prejudices stem mostly from a lack of guidance and a lack of education.
We need to address the lack of education and the best way to do this is through our primary school education system. We ran a programme for three years within Irish primary schools partly funded by the Department of Justice where one of our youth leaders from a different ethnic community would go to schools and would talk to them about their lives, as well as dealing with issues of racism, sexism and homosexuality.
We found this to be a very effective and powerful exercises – if you can get in to primary schools and talk to children from that early age – you can play games with them, show them through the use of sport what it feels like to be discriminated against it is a powerful educational tool.
Sadly, though we wanted to continue this programme in schools for a further three years, the Department of Justice did not grant us the funding to continue this programme.
We still actively engage with communities and liase with governing bodies in relation to their inclusion and diversity programmes.
I must commend the Gaelic Athletic Association for their hands on approach and they are leading the way in terms of their policies and procedures – this is vital as they are present in every community and we look forward to seeing more culturally diverse stars light up Croke Park in the not so distant future.
Parents of children can play a role here as well — asking within their communities are we reaching out to ethnic minorities, does my local club have a diversity and inclusion programme, if yes what is the policy, have their coaches received appropriate training in relation to this — small community actions like this can lead to huge changes on a national scale.
I am hugely optimistic about the future and I hope that people will be able to see more of the possibilities of what sport can do in terms of uniting communities from different backgrounds.
We must acknowledge that more work needs to be done — the more people who get involved the more hope there is that we can build a better, more inclusive Ireland for all —but this must start through better leadership and guidance from those in Leinster House.
The Government announced in January that they would establish an anti- racism taskforce, but I am urging them, given more recent movements and circumstances, to address this as a matter of priority.
This report may take up to a year to complete and make recommendations – and then how long more before it is implemented and discussed? This is vitally important and I am asking the Irish Government to treat this as a matter of urgency.
If everyone makes a conscious decision to do something more to encourage more inclusion in our communities, we can do so much in a relatively short space of time.
Ireland is a small, tight-knit community and the affect of the actions of people united has never been better showcased than the Irish people’s handling of COVID-19.
I am encouraging you, for your future children, for the future of Ireland, to take this issue with the level of seriousness that it deserves, the social construct of race needs to be unpicked – it was established to make it morally more just to enslave people.
SARI has work to do in the coming months, and this work would not be possible without some of the incredible support we receive through fundraisers, most recently I would like to extend my gratitude to Glandore for their fundraising raffle which has raised vital funds for us as we prepare to launch of 24th annual Soccer Fest on September 12.
Further information about SARI and their events is available on their website – www.sari.ie.
Mr Ogden spoke recently on a live virtual webinar hosted by flexible office space providers Glandore about diversity and inclusion.