GAA defends Sky deal as 'only option' to serve diaspora
GAA chiefs have issued a staunch defence of the controversial Sky deal, claiming it was struck in the interests of thousands of football and hurling fans living abroad.
It was claimed that the lucrative agreement – which will see championship games aired on pay-per-view for the first time – represented the GAA's "only option" in terms of serving the Irish diaspora.
GAA President Liam O'Neill admitted that he has "worried" about the impact of the agreement ever since it was signed a fortnight ago but said he hopes it will be shown to have been a "brave decision" in the future.
"We would never do anything to harm this organisation," Mr O'Neill told the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications.
The association's director general, Paraic Duffy, strongly rejected accusations that the GAA was "disenfranchising" supporters by reducing the number of games available on terrestrial television. He said that by maintaining the current model, the GAA risked "abandoning" GAA supporters living overseas.
"We don't believe that the charge made against the GAA of disenfranchising supporters is sustainable," Mr Duffy said. "Due to the unfortunate upturn in Irish emigration . . . it is no longer tenable for the GAA to see the audience of Gaelic games as living solely in Ireland."
Mr Duffy gave the example of an Irish nurse living in Bahrain who personally told him that the new deal would mean she could watch GAA games.
"She said to me 'Being able to watch the games will be like a band aid on a homesick heart'," Mr Duffy told TDs and senators, adding: "We've reached out to our own people."
The GAA bosses also insisted that the three-year deal, which runs until 2017, will not lead to more games being scheduled for mid-week.
And they said that there are no plans to put more games on a pay-per-view status in the coming years.
The GAA insisted that the move won't impact negatively on GAA players after members of the committee expressed concerns about radical changes to their schedules.
There were frank exchanges at the committee as TDs continued to express concern about the impact the deal, which will involve Sky Sports showing 14 matches exclusively, including two All-Ireland football quarter-finals involving the Leinster and Ulster champions.
Fianna Fail TD for Clare, Timmy Dooley, said that many families cannot afford Sky Sports as a result of the economic climate. "What do you say to the family, the husband and wife with three kids who can't afford the sky package because of the economic climate?" he said.
Fine Gael TD for Waterford, Paudie Coffey, said he still believed fans would be "disenfranchised" by the move.
However, Mr Duffy emphasised that the GAA had to base its approach on the significant number of GAA fans living abroad.
"If we had decided that all TV coverage of our games were to be free-to-air, we would have to abandon what we see as our obligation to GAA supporters abroad," he told the committee. He said that 14 of the 16 most crucial championship fixtures would still be aired on RTE. Mr Duffy added that the national broadcaster secured all the 31 games that it bid for.
The committee heard that while BBC expressed interest in showing games, there was no bid made whatsoever from ITV or Channel 4.
"Sky was the only broadcaster that was available to us. If we wanted to show games at home and to people in Britain it was Sky or nothing," Mr Duffy said.
'Unfair' County structure has no future – Pages 62-63