Sunday 17 December 2017

5 rules the GAA can't enforce

Director general Paraic Duffy's paper on the issue of payments to managers will be discussed tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile
Director general Paraic Duffy's paper on the issue of payments to managers will be discussed tomorrow. Photo: Sportsfile

The conflict between the theory and practice of the GAA's Official Guide is topical right now.

From an imminent report on payments to managers to the alleged use of a GAA facility by a team from a rival sports body and the ongoing prevention of collective training by inter-county teams during closed season, the challenge to the rule book by many of its own units is strong.

Just like state laws, rules for sporting organisations can never be completely policed and enforced.

The GAA's rule book is almost 200 pages long, running across seven chapters that have been subject to change and shake-up on an almost annual basis.

Some rules are basic principles, others are procedures and guidelines to follow, more constitute definitions.

But within those 200 pages are rules that continue to be impossible to enforce.

The validity of some of these rules remain strong, but how can they continue to exist in the rule book if they can't be enforced?

The onus on county and club officials in that regard is a burden too few have been prepared to shoulder.

Here are five rules that continually test enforcement.

Rule 1.10 -- Expenses paid to all officials, players and members shall not exceed the standard rates laid down by the Central Council. Members of the association may not participate in full-time training.

The vexed question of payments to managers in the GAA is about to reach a defining moment. Tomorrow, the association's management committee will discuss a paper written by the director general Paraic Duffy on the issue.

"The least acceptable option is to continue to proclaim a value and, at the same time, ignore it," wrote Duffy in his annual report to Congress last March, before promising to bring some thinking to the issue later in the year.

County and club officials continue up and down the country to proclaim that value of amateurism yet ignore it by stuffing cash into envelopes and pressing it into the hands of grateful managers and trainers who conduct their work professionally and skilfully. But under rule, it's not permitted.

So far, no individual officer or board have ever been penalised for a breach of this rule and are unlikely to be unless a whistle blower emerges. And that's highly unlikely. Some counties and managers have sailed close to the wind with loose revelations.

But unless much stricter guidelines are enshrined in rule, there is little to stop the practice continuing. It could be possible for clubs and counties to be restricted from choosing within their own pool or perhaps creating a 'designated' list of clubs and counties who are permitted due to resource reasons.

Can the GAA really keep the rule in place unless there is a genuine willingness to enforce it? It doesn't appear so.

Rule 6.43 -- The months of November and December shall be closed months for all games involving inter-county teams and collective training for inter-county panels.

Another current hot potato that requires the enforcement of local officials to see that it is adhered to. Anecdotal evidence is as plentiful this season as it has been in the previous two years since the ban was introduced. The sanction for breaking this rule is withholding of league dividends, but so far this sanction has not been applied.

The ban was introduced with good intention to afford players a proper break, but for counties who have been inactive since the end of June or even July, there is an anxiousness to get going again well in advance of the competitive season.

Some counties have found ways to subvert the rule by engaging in fundraising white-collar boxing tournaments, which technically involves collective training. Many others have just gone ahead and covertly trained. Unless they convene a 'rule enforcement squad' to tour counties trying to catch squads in the act, it is impossible for Croke Park to police the rule effectively. Co-operation from local officials can't be guaranteed.

The idea that Cork or Down should return to collective training on the same day, January 1, as Mayo or Wicklow is a flawed one, however, given that they lasted in the championship for almost three additional months.

But so far, no county has come up with a motion to change the settings on what is fundamentally a sound idea. So the anecdotes continue and the rule remains one to find ways around.

Rule 5.1 (a) -- All property including grounds, club houses, halls, dressing-rooms and handball alleys owned and controlled by units of the association shall be used only for the purpose of or in connection with the playing of games controlled by the association, and for such other purposes not in conflict with the aims and objects of the association, that may be sanctioned from time to time by the Central Council.

Croke Park is the obvious exception to this rule -- formerly known as Rule 42 -- which was amended in 2005 to allow rugby and soccer into headquarters while Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped.

Since then, Central Council has retained the power over the use of Croke Park if needed again in the future. But every other GAA ground remains out of bounds for rival sports.

Last May, Nemo Rangers got a rap on the knuckles for allowing the Irish rugby squad, at short notice, to use its indoor facilities in Trabeg and now Faythe Harriers in Wexford are coming under scrutiny for an alleged breach.

But how many Faythe Harriers are out there? How many clubs built astro turf pitches and now find it difficult to service the loans that allowed them to do it? Other sports clubs will source facilities anyway when they are turned away from GAA clubs.

In straitened times, is it economically prudent to be compelling clubs to turn away particular shades of business? Grass pitches will always remain sacrosanct but all-weather facilities appeal to a different market.

Rule 6.23 (b) -- Senior inter-county panels shall not be permitted to go on training weekends or training of longer duration after the final of their respective National League has been played, except during the 13-day period prior to a senior championship game or 20-day period prior to an All-Ireland senior final.

The basis of this rule is sound in one respect, ensuring that players are available to play with their clubs outside the time frames mentioned.

By and large, counties adhered to the restrictions in 2010. Mayo had to withdraw from a trip to Portugal as it fell outside the permitted time. But within the country weekend trips outside the parameters have occured.

Technically, Kildare were in breach when they travelled to nearby Johnstown House for four days at the end of last April after the Division 2 league final had been played.

In their defence, awareness at that stage may not have been great. The GAA will probably have more success policing this rule than the broader winter training ban.

Rule 5.4 -- Bookmaking shall not be permitted within association property. A member breaching or aiding the breach of this rule shall be suspended for 24 weeks.

Technically, under this rule a club that runs a fundraising race night cannot accept or make bets as part of the entertainment package.

Cheltenham preview nights held in clubhouses cannot allow a sponsoring bookmaker to trade at a stand on the premises either.

Neither regulation has ever been enforced.

A bookmaking chain may not have any great desire to pitch up at a GAA ground, but why is it still prohibited under rule when there is a possible revenue stream available, particularly for rights in Croke Park?

Irish Independent

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