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GPA's UK boot deal has sports shops up in arms

Croke Park has given its full backing to the controversial cheap boots deal between the Gaelic Players' Association and British online retailer Sports Direct.

Sports gear retailers around the country – one of the biggest sources of sponsorship of clubs and counties – are incensed by the deal which followed months of negotiations between the GPA and the UK-based online giant, headed up by Newcastle United boss Mike Ashley.

Far from being a solo run by the players' representative body, the deal was sanctioned and approved by Croke Park and as a contract has been signed there is little hope the deal will be cancelled.

The website gaelicboots.com is effectively an online gateway to allow Gaelic players, including youngsters, to buy heavily discounted boots from Sports Direct who can undercut sports shops here because they don't have the overheads of large numbers of staff, rates and rents.

But as furious retailers around the country accuse the GAA of betrayal, the Sunday Independent has learned there is also also growing anger within the association, especially at club level.

"How can we go down the road to the local sports shop looking for him to sponsor a race night or an under 14 kit when the association is encouraging people to buy their boots online from Britain?" said one club official.

In an open letter to GPA boss Dessie Farrell, sports shop owner Ger Wyley, who owns a well-known footwear and sportswear shop in Dungarvan, states that he has supported Waterford County Board and local clubs financially since he set up business 24 years ago.

"Only last week I paid the annual sponsorship sum of €2,000 to Dungarvan Juvenile GAA club. I am also a member of this club and purchase weekly lotto tickets. I sponsor at least 14 other local GAA clubs through race nights, raffles, vouchers etc. I also purchase Déise draw tickets and attend local and inter-county games thereby contributing locally and nationally to the GAA.

"To date, in association with Skins, we have sponsored €75,000 worth of Skins product for the Waterford senior hurling panel. With the GPA/GAA encouraging its members (myself included) and supporters to purchase not only boots but also runners on gaelicboots.com, we will no longer be in a position to continue this level of sponsorship," he said.

"How can the GPA expect to get sports grants for inter-county players from the Irish Government while at the same time asking its members and supporters to purchase footwear from an English-registered company with the VAT going to the British government?"

But the GAA has this weekend defended the deal. In a statement to this newspaper, spokesman Alan Milton said: "Gaelicboots.com is a joint initiative between the GAA and the GPA to help fund the GAA and GPA player welfare and development programmes. It was launched specifically as a medium for players who purchase their boots online, offering them a wider range of boots at competitive prices.

"Football boots represent a small proportion of the overall expenditure on GAA playing gear and equipment and are excluded from the provision under the GAA rules whereby all jerseys, shorts, stockings, tracksuits and kit bags worn in official matches, and all replica playing gear, must be of Irish manufacture.

"It is a matter for each player and unit to decide whether they wish to purchase their boots, playing gear or equipment online or from retailers."

Wyley said on Friday that he feels betrayed by the GPA and the GAA and said he hoped that the matter would be raised at Central Council level at their next meeting.

In his open letter, he says: "I have two GAA players currently employed – one being an inter-county player. With gaelicboots.com taking business from me how does your association propose to protect their jobs?

"The GPA/GAA have given Sports Direct access to the Irish market without carrying any of the costs we incur – rates, insurance, light, heat, advertising, wages, to mention a few. We contribute greatly to the local economy which in turn contributes to the GPA/GAA.

"If you continue to direct business abroad, we will all suffer; eg local media depend on our advertising to survive and the GPA/GAA depend on them to publicise their games. By hitting us you are removing a link that breaks the chain.

"Why are the GPA/GAA misleading its own members and supporters by calling gaelicboots.com 'your own website' when it is clearly Sportsdirect.com retail Ltd. Company No 03406347 registered in the UK," he adds.

Ashley is deputy chairman and majority shareholder in Sports Direct. Recently the company reported a 21 per cent rise in sales in the quarter to February 20, with gross profits up 23 per cent to £245m.

Irish Independent

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