Is Hurling Violent? Part 1 of 2

From the first impressions that I posted, you may think my answer is “yes.” I’d like to correct those first impressions. Hurling is not a violent sport, or at least, it is no less violent than other contact sports.

Tackling in hurling is highly regulated. There’s a reason why the participants wear little protective equipment — the referees strictly enforce the rules, and the way that fouls are penalized allows the referee to call a tackling foul without badly interrupting the pace of the game. My impression, from watching three matches, is that called fouls are much less disruptive than in soccer. And let’s not even talk about the persistent problems with foul-calling in American football and NBA basketball.

So don’t take the apparently-wild swinging of a wicked-looking stick (or “hurley”) as a sign of violence. Unlike lacrosse, there are few legal tackles that involve using one’s hurley against another’s body. And injuries are remarkably rare, especially when one considers that almost nobody plays hurling as a full-time job.

Yet it does look like a pre-historic battle. And it look maniacal, with its incredible speed and how often the best players lose the ball (or “sliotar”) and then sprint after the loose ball.

One point of clarification: I’m talking about the rules and the practices of the sport. One could argue that the way the game is played in the All-Ireland Championship leads to fistfights among players too often. One could draw a comparison with American ice hockey and say that the violence is integral to the sport. I admit that I sidestep that point entirely — in part because I’m hardly qualified to argue it.