Radical changes needed for counties to balance books
As rich counties get richer, the GAA needs to consider new options like a funding 'draft', says Colm O'Rourke
It has come to that time of year again, the time for county conventions and club AGMs. 'I'm a player, get me out of here' will be the normal response of the younger brigade to being asked to attend their club AGM. And at county level the convention is reserved for an even older group. Under 30s need not apply. Who said this was no country for old men?
The GAA is not like the film where the old sheriff realises that it is time to hand in his gun or he will not survive, the GAA values age, wisdom and commitment. A bit more like the Chinese communist party in that regard.
Most of the news stories emerging from counties are related to their financial positions and their efforts to cut spending. The biggest single expenditure for all counties is on county teams and the struggle is to get this figure down to manageable proportions. The problem is that it is a chicken-and-egg situation. Which comes first? Without investing in various county teams there is no chance of success. Yet spending big is not a guarantee of success either.
When the amount of money spent on the county team becomes known at this time of year there is often alarm among supporters but all figures must be looked at in context. It is not the actual figure itself which is important but, like national debt, it must be seen as a percentage of income. Some counties spend half a million on county teams and it would break the county board if that kind of expenditure continued. If Dublin spent two million on their teams it would be entirely manageable in the context of their income. So it is not comparing like with like when these figures appear.
The other thing which the ordinary punter should also take into account when the figure for expenditure appears is that it is not all on the senior football or hurling team. Some people see the sums and jump to the conclusion that players must be dining on Beluga caviar after training sessions. (This variety is on sale on the internet for about €10 an ounce for anyone interested, and no I have never eaten it, nor any other type of caviar.)
Anyway when the sums for all county sides are all lumped in together, the final figures can be as misleading as our own national finances. Yet some counties forget the bottom line in pursuit of the golden fleece, the fleece of the gold-haired winged ram that Jason went in search of in Greek mythology. Substitute Sam Maguire for the gold-haired ram and you get the picture.
What counties should be doing is putting a percentage cap of their income on spending on their county sides and then they won't get into too much trouble. If a county could only spend a maximum of 40 per cent of their income on county sides then everyone would know where they stood at the beginning of the season. Of course there are going to be exceptional years but for the most part counties run similar courses each year.
Supporters will argue that this policy is going to ensure that those with most money will continue to dominate. The response of course is, 'Well Sherlock, where have you been?' It has been institutionalised for the recent past and is not going to change any year soon. The gap between rich and poor is widening and playing resources are only one of the requirements to building a team. There is the logistical back-up of sports science people, medical teams, psychologists, nutritionists etc and many of these have to be paid.
And there is no Robin Hood out there who is going to rob the rich to feed the poor. It is even a touchy subject to bring up. I read last week that Kathleen O'Neill, the Kildare county secretary, has urged a pooling of all counties' sponsorship funds for equitable distribution. Good luck on that crusade Kathleen, but there will be a few other county secretaries who will be inclined to tell Kildare that they created their own financial mess and should get out of it themselves rather than look for a handout from those who managed their affairs more prudently.
The bulging eyes are looking at Dublin and many counties are guilty of at least two of the seven deadly sins when they see what Dublin have managed. Those two sins are lust and envy. Maybe you could add in greed and pride as well. But if Dublin are going to continue to invest in a further wave of games promotion in both football and hurling they will need all of the AIG money and a lot more besides.
Yet the principle of having some sort of central fund which is heavily weighted in favour of
weaker counties with lower populations is certainly valid and should be set up.
This would act like the draft in professional sports like Australian rules or American sports. Instead of getting players the counties would get a substantial injection of money which would go on games promotion and would be monitored from outside. This could work on a sliding scale so stronger counties with access to funds either from a sugar daddy sponsor or other sources would get least. Socialism does work.
It's easy to agree on this, but the sums involved would have to be several million in order to make any impression. The pool of normal sponsors has run dry over the last few years but the great untapped source has to be many of the multinationals who are making enormous profits in this country and who take advantage of low tax rates. Five or ten million would be a drop in the ocean for Google, Intel, Facebook and another 30 or 40 big companies. Maybe the GAA would have to dress up the proposal a bit and it certainly would not want to sound to the Yanks like part of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto. The selling would have to be more like Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930s which lifted the US economy out of recession but it is needed badly in GAA Ireland and would work in some shape or form.