News Eugene McGee

Friday 19 September 2014

GAA slightly amateur

Rampant hypocrisy over money debasing great organisation

Published 25/02/2008 | 00:00

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The club scene remains an example of all that is good about the GAA as epitomised by David Maher’s picture as Birr manager Pa Joe Whelahan (centre) celebrates with club chairman with Brian Coulahan (left) and selector Billy Mullins after their victory over Dunloy in Clones yesterday

What exactly does the GAA mean when it calls the association 'an amateur organisation'?

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I am inclined to ask this when we see the vast amounts of money being poured into the GAA from huge commercial operations that are far removed from what the heart and soul of the GAA always was before now.

For instance, we were told last week that the 20 or so million pumped into the latest television deal was "not just about money."

That's what Nickey Brennan repeated ad nauseum last week when stating that there would be no pay-for-view television for GAA championship games, for now.

The GAA has often been fleecing the ordinary GAA supporters and the television companies in order to maintain massively increased revenues from football and hurling.

We can live with the television companies in that regard since they are purely a commercial operation, just as the GAA is -- no matter what Brennan states.

However, why should ordinary supporters be charged very high prices for all sorts of GAA games in every county in Ireland if the GAA itself can accumulate such vast millions every year.

Awash

Surely, if the GAA is awash with big bucks from commercial operations, it should be able to subsidise the cost of match charges to the plain people who pay good money week in and week out and are the very bedrock of all GAA activity.

But instead of that happening, there is even more very serious money being charged by the GAA for commercial sponsorship with half a dozen individual sponsors being put in place from now on and a figure of around €10m being available for the next three years.

Why can ordinary GAA match-goers not receive some remission from high charges in response to all the millions pouring into commercial ventures by the GAA?

There is a myth in parts of the GAA that the organisation is a purely amateur body, indeed the GAA often boasts that "it is the greatest amateur sporting organisation in the world."

So, let us examine just some examples of the so-called amateurism which is common practice in the GAA.

We can start with the managers and coaches who are attached to club teams up and down the country, the vast majority of whom get paid a fee for every training session and match-day they have.

Lets be very conservative and say there are only about 1,500 paid managers and they earn €300 a week for about 40 weeks of the year. That would be a round figure of €18,000,000 for just one category of so-called amateur GAA official.

Many of the people involved in the ad hoc group to derail the GPA-led grants scheme at Congress are themselves members of clubs who illegally pay managers. What's that about kettles calling pots black?

Remember, the GAA's Official Guide states that "no player, team, official or member shall accept payment in cash or in kind or other material reward in connection with GAA membership..."

The majority of inter- county managers get paid for their services also.

The figures can vary enormously but range from €40,000 to €100,000 when we throw in all those 'material rewards and benefit in kind' which cover a multitude.

If we assume that between football and hurling there are 40 paid managers and they average about €50,000 a head all in it brings us to €2,000,000.

Perks

Then there are the many players who receive perks of various kinds that are far removed from the GPA structures. For example, at least 50 inter-county players currently have the free use of a car. If we assume that this is worth €5,000 per annum all in. That's another €250,000 provided for amateur GAA people. Other breaches of the so-called amateur ethic can be harder to define but are equally important.

For instance, a huge number of county players are paid money in lieu of lost wages particularly by people such as farmers in summertime or others who cannot switch work-rotas and thereby suffer financial consequences.

The GAA amazingly and steadfastly refuses to contemplate any payment for money in lieu of legitimate lost earnings because of their involvement in football or hurling. At a very conservative estimate one could assume that at least €1m is paid out in this way.

One of the biggest payments to amateur GAA players is the holiday break which for some counties can cost over a half a million per team, but surely amounts to €3m when it is added up annually.

Other straws in the wind regarding the abuse of finance for GAA activities are harder to prove but they certainly exist. Several players have been financially rewarded to transfer to different club teams for example.

What I have been indicating from those samples of misuse of money by members of the GAA is that we can forget about the concept of the GAA being entirely an amateur organisation.

It would be more accurate to state that the GAA is a slightly amateur organisation.

The avalanche of money being thrown at television rights, sponsorship and Croke Park rents alone shows that the GAA is as much big business as a sports organisation.

And there is not too much wrong with that if the GAA uses its vast financial resources well. The latest bonanza for the GAA is the full frontal assault on traditional GAA grounds in county towns by developers.

This is really serious financial business in places like Portlaoise, Tralee, Mullingar, Ennis. Mullingar a second time, Newbridge and I am sure many others.

Any five of these projects would be worth at least €100m to GAA coffers but of course alternative grounds would have to be provided. There are many models for these major developments but the one used by Portlaoise GAA club is the best one of all because it stabilises the long-term financial future of that particular club after all the development work has been carried out.

When we estimate that about €25m is annually siphoned into GAA activity, contrary to the principle of the GAA's amateur status, we wonder what all the fuss is about providing a Government Grant to players costing about €40 a week.

It is obvious that the GAA needs to completely transform the so-called amateur ethos. It has long outlived its present terms of reference and the level of hypocrisy, dishonesty and chicanery, even by leading GAA officers at county board level, is shameful and a terrible reflection on the great organisation.

Because the GAA is behaving as a leading commercial concern as much as a sports body then it must completely re-assess the amateur ethos and correct the balance between the word 'amateur' in modern sport and professionalism as shown by the modern progressive approach of the GAA as an organisation.

But for God's sake stop the rampant hypocrisy which is debasing a great sporting organisation.

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