Tuesday 17 October 2017

Comment: Moral high ground still a slippery slope for GAA

Association will find it hard to impose one law for some when it can't impose so many others

Colm Cooper’s decision to hold a testimonial dinner may cause the GAA to examine its rules according to Ard Stiurthoir Paraic Duffy. The pair are seen here together in Killarney to launch the 2011 club championship. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Cooper’s decision to hold a testimonial dinner may cause the GAA to examine its rules according to Ard Stiurthoir Paraic Duffy. The pair are seen here together in Killarney to launch the 2011 club championship. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

The first instinct of a principled democrat is to seek refuge in his constitution.

And so it was when Colm Cooper met GAA director-general Páraic Duffy recently - twice, according to the retired Kerry player - the immediate response from Duffy was to seek the nearest copy of the GAA's 200-page Official Guide for clarification.

And also perhaps, in the light of his interview with Seán O'Rourke on RTé radio yesterday, for some semblance of moral enlightenment too, as his subsequent comments betrayed a man whose deeply held principles had been somewhat prickled in this instance.

Duffy was seemingly not satisfied with a mere cursory glance at the unwieldy rule book; he also sought succour amongst the GAA's legal eagles in an effort to clarify whether or not Cooper's seemingly seminal money-spinning ruse was contrary, not merely to the spirit, but also the letter, of association law.

Duffy was adamant that, contrary to Cooper's strong assertion that he had been led to believe that there was not an issue with the testimonial following the pair's meeting - or meetings - he did have a problem with it.

"That is not quite right," he told O'Rourke.

"What I said to Colm when he came to see me, and I said it very clearly, was that I had a concern here about how this might impact on your status and on our rules.

"We looked at the rules, got our legal advisors to look at them. They came back and said he's not breaking any rules.

levelled "I went back to Colm and told him this and said, 'If you go ahead with it you will not be suspended and no charge will be levelled against you'.

"But I did ask him was he doing the right thing here. I told him the GAA would not be supporting it and we're not supporting it."

Just in case listeners were not sufficiently persuaded of the GAA's opposition - Duffy, seeking to speak on behalf of the entire organisation, we must presume, in the absence of a vote - he elaborated.

"It is against the ethos of the association to run any fundraising event that would benefit an individual," he added, veering the debate into a rather more opaque arena, as the "ethos" of the association can mean one thing to one of its members and something else entirely to another.

Particularly when, as in this instance, the issue revolves around money.

Further, Duffy then outlined what can only be interpreted as an optimistic view that, were he have to have his way, Cooper's testimonial, and the furore it has aroused, will be the last.

"Under our current rules we cannot prevent such events from happening. Do we need to look at it? Yes, we will look at it.

"It's tricky as our current rules don't allow us to deal with it. We need to look at the rules. I'm very clear on this, our organisation does not want testimonials.

"It's the message I have got very clearly over the last few weeks. We are an amateur organisation, we don't reward our players financially.

"This is a public thing. It's there, we have to express our view on it. Our view is we are not going to support it.

"At a recent management committee meeting, we decided to take some form of legal advice on it. It won't affect this testimonial, but it may have an impact in the future."

Aside from the absence of constitutional prohibition, there have been a welter of positive and negative reactions to Cooper's testimonial, most predicated upon the morality of such a venture within a purportedly amateur organisation.

It is now clear where Duffy stands on the matter and, if he is taken at his word, which has always been honourable, his opinion is widely acknowledged by many.

Both opinions are utterly valid.

After all, the GAA is the great sporting democracy where personal points of view can remain deeply held - whether they be a ban on foreign games, the exclusion of British servicemen, or the deployment of (selected) GAA premises for use by rival associations.

Democracy decreed that, following a vote, these opinions and many, many others - whether it is the prohibition on lifting the football from the ground with your knees to the introduction of the black card - can be voted upon and resiled.

If the Central Council progress to recommending to their Annual Congress that Cooper's testimonial will be, to adopt the phrase du jour, "the first and last", then the GAA body will have comprehensively delivered their final word on the matter.

Or will they? If the GAA resort to their law book, let us rely upon the dictionary.

A testimonial is described as a "game or event held in honour of a player, who usually retains some of the proceeds."

Or, indeed, "something given or done as an expression of esteem, admiration, or gratitude."

Just as legality can be queried, so can definition.

Already this year, there have been many such events held for injured players; some high-profile, others less so.

Would these fundraising attempts be outlawed by any future ban? If not, how would the GAA frame a rule to discriminate between one event and other?

By decreeing allowed percentages of personal gain? Accepting a notional donation to the GAA? It is a minefield.

And that is before one casts an eye over the GAA's current efforts to implement the "amateur ethos" via their rule book which, as Duffy admitted himself yesterday, leave much to be desired.

"In other situations players may benefit 'under the counter' and that's something we can't deal with now."

From free cars to club managers on above average industrial wages, jobs for some boys and lucrative appearances for others, the amateur ethos of the GAA has been undermined for years now.

authority The GAA have failed abysmally to locate the vast amounts of cash being paid immorally - and quite possibly illegally too - under the table for years so how can they assume the moral and legal authority to police events when the money is clearly on the table?

Duffy said the following in 2010: "The least acceptable option is to continue to proclaim a value and, at the same time, ignore it."

Nothing has changed in the meantime to amend the obvious inability of the GAA to police this element of their Official Guide, not to mention the laughable attempts to oversee the winter training ban or sundry other areas where seemingly flawless theory is undermined by poor practice.

In attempting to ascend the moral high ground on this issue, the GAA seem to want the best of both worlds.

Handicapped by their inability to navigate a vast land about which they remain haplessly blind, the one-eyed man seems to be the easiest of targets.

At least Cooper asked the question about his money, most of which, in any event, will not necessarily be diverted from hard-pressed clubs.

One wonders how many others in the GAA, who have trousered large sums of theirs from the grassroots, chose to do the same.

Irish Independent

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