Friday 28 November 2014

Eugene McGee: Rules not a matter of life or death

Published 29/11/2010 | 05:00

Every sports organisation in the world has rules to control the methods by which they operate and rules which govern the way their actual games are played.

In most cases, changes or adaptations in organisational or playing rules are no big deal and are regarded simply as the progression of the particular sport into the modern environment.

But the GAA is a very different animal when it comes to analysing its rules and there is never a year without major rows and controversies about how they are handled.

I read last week where the Central Council is looking at the present rule in its constitution which only allows playing rules to be discussed and voted upon at Congress once every five years and there seems to be moves afoot to change that.

There is a theory that there should be more scope to change rules if the demand is there.

Of course, there is another school of thought that five years is often enough and indeed, at one stage, not too long ago, playing rules could not be changed except at 10-year intervals. Many Ulster GAA people seem to be against any alteration in the five-year rule.

The infrequency of playing-rule changes in the GAA, particularly football, is unfortunate to say the least.

More often than not, some committee or other, and I can recall at least six in my own time, spend a year or two going to meetings, doing a bit of research and then drawing up so-called experimental rules that are usually used in the national leagues.

At that stage every Tom, Dick and Harry, and nowadays every Mary, Sophie and Yvonne, feel THEY have the right to attack some or all of the experiments, just because they are different.

Usually the charge is led by the county team managers, nowadays the real powerbrokers in the GAA. Every time there is any proposal to change a playing rule the managers get their mouths working much harder than their brains during the national league and bad-mouth practically every attempt to change ANY playing rule.

"The game is fine, it's the refereeing that is the problem," is a favourite shout from the managers. Or maybe a "this change will kill Gaelic football as we know it" sort of comment.

In some cases in recent years, a great amount of research has gone into analysing proposed changes, but this is blithely ignored and opposed, mainly by managers.

The reason is simple -- these men have developed their own way of preparing teams to play the modern style of football and they have no interest in dabbling in experiments, fearful that changing their cosy way of doing things might challenge their ability a little too much.

So, when the vote comes at GAA Congress seeking to change a playing rule it is usually beaten, helped largely by the ludicrous rule the GAA insists in keeping, which states that a two-third majority is required to change any such rule. Which effectively means that people who do not want change only need one third of the delegates on their side to succeed.

After observing these developments for 30 years and having been on some of those committees regarding proposed changes, I have long been convinced that the GAA should stop this ritual, which takes place every five years.

Instead there should be PERMANENT Rules Committee that would monitor, with the aid of modern technology when necessary, the main component parts of the games, tabulate how they influence the state of the games and, only when really necessary, make proposals to change a playing rule.

This would take the pressure and hassle attached to the once-every-five-years deadline that tends to treat such proposals as matters of life or death as far as GAA people are concerned.

They are no such thing.

Changing a playing rule should be seen as perfectly normal decision-making, so long as the proposed change is needed and practical after due consideration and consultation.

A rules committee should have no more than three to five members, including a manager and a player, and be hand-picked by the GAA president and chief executive and, ideally, they should have no other major involvement in GAA politics.

The GAA itself, of course, would also need to change that two-thirds majority rule.

Gaelic football, like most sports, is constantly evolving. When Kerry brought in the handpass back in the 1970s, when you could even handpass the ball into the net, it was deemed revolutionary.

Then every team, county and club, tried to imitate that style with often catastrophic results because few teams had the natural skill or exceptional fitness of that particular set of Kerry players.

A rules committee, if it was there, could have analysed the situation and possibly recommended some alterations. Instead, nearly 40 years later, the handpass is still predominating Gaelic football, particularly at club level.

The increased level of physical and mental preparation has been the hallmark of the last 20 years and is to be welcomed.

But maybe a rules committee would have examined the overall picture around the country at all levels and made some suggestions regarding the correct balance between modern fitness levels and the level of skill in football, particularly at club level, which is after all about 98pc of Gaelic football activity.

Instead we have club teams being trained like Olympic athletes yet they cannot kick a ball over the crossbar from 25 yards and some even refuse to kick the ball at all.

These are the sort of things that a permanent rules committee would be able to address on an ongoing basis.

There are actually very few changes needed to the rules at any particular time, but the proposals we have had this century have ended up mainly in disaster.

There has to be a better way for the sake of Gaelic football, its players and followers.

Irish Independent

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