In 2019, I had the privilege of attending a basketball workshop at Larkin Community College as part of the Irish Jr. NBA Festival of Basketball. Dutch NBA champion Francisco Elson was the special guest at an event spearheaded by Basketball Ireland and Michael Darragh MacAuley's North East Inner City Basketball Academy. We were in the heart of the Dublin city centre. There were about 50 kids there of all creeds and colour, boys and girls. It was amazing to witness the power of basketball.
Diversity and inclusivity are aspirational goals for most organisations in contemporary Irish life. But, for Irish basketball, diversity and inclusivity are core principles.
This spirit is fostered at grassroots level, but also has been cultivated by the people who run basketball in Ireland. It's no surprise that basketball is the fastest growing sport in this country.
Basketball has had a long-standing role in assisting a multicultural Ireland. At the heyday of Irish basketball in the 1980s and 1990s, African-Americans like Kelvin Troy were more than just basketball players in their communities. They opened people's minds to the world outside of Ireland.
All of this contributes to the profound disappointment and genuine fury that many people in the Irish basketball community feel in the wake of Basketball Ireland CEO Bernard O'Byrne's deleted Facebook comment about Raheem Sterling.
O'Byrne posted 'BLACK DIVES MATTER!!!' on a BBC News Facebook post about Wednesday's England-Denmark game where Raheem Sterling won a penalty in controversial circumstances.
The comment has made international news and has been widely condemned on social media, both inside and outside Irish basketball. A number of high profile personalities in Irish basketball have tweeted their disgust at the remark.
I am disappointed by the remarks of the CEO of @BballIrl and I can firmly say that his remarks does not represent how the basketball community feels in regards of race and diversity. I am not writing this to promote hate towards Bernard O’Byrne, but to educate him on his diction.
— Aidan Harris Igiehon (@aidanigiehon) July 9, 2021
Late Thursday, O'Byrne issued a terse apology via Basketball Ireland's website. It read:
"My choice of words commenting on a penalty incident were not thought out. It was an error of judgement and I wholeheartly apologise for the comments."
Friday afternoon, Hillary Nets told RTÉ he'd 'stepped off' Basketball Ireland's diversity committee because of the comment and was highly critical of O'Byrne's apology.
"I don't really accept the apology to be honest. I think we deserve a lot more than just what was said.
"I think a more public statement from himself there has to be some sort of consequence for the actions that were taken.
"For example, if it was a player or a coach or a member of our community that made those exact comments there would be consequences for their action there would be something.
"A panel would be brought forward, something would happen."
On Friday evening, the board of Basketball Ireland issued a statement saying an 'internal investigation' into the matter is 'ongoing'.
"We are fully aware of the gravity of the situation. We cannot comment on our ongoing internal investigation and would urge patience while this is completed.”
Despite the outcry on social media, it seems thus far that O'Byrne doesn't feel he needs to resign over the deleted comment. Whatever was meant by three word comment, it's clear he failed the organisation he leads this week. Judging by the angry and hurt response that's followed, one wonders how he'll ever be able to restore the credibility he's lost. Whatever action the board decides to take from here, it's imperative that it finds a way to publically reaffirm its commitment to diversity, for the sake of all of the people who've worked tirelessly to make Irish basketball a force for positive change and togetherness in this country.