New Sky deal should have been discussed by the rank and file
So it is that the GAA have weathered yet another storm. Sky have been awarded the rights to GAA games and we will have to pay to watch football and hurling on TV.
Unlike the giant trees that fell in the spring gales, the stout old oaks of the GAA have come through without so much as a broken twig or a dislocated acorn. There's hardly a word about the row over pay per kick and puck this week. There are times in this business when we have to react to news as it happens, but this is written after 10 days of soul-searching and at least one change of mind.
The big question for me isn't so much that Sky were awarded the exclusive transmission of some GAA games, but that this contentious issue wasn't put up for discussion by the rank and file. Technically, the GAA were entitled to conclude the Sky deal without recourse to the membership. The GAA used to be led from the grassroots rather from the top down. The opening up of Croke Park for soccer and rugby started off in a small club in Leitrim
The GAA is a business, but it is also much more than that. The concept of volunteerism is fundamental to the GAA. The playing fields and dressing- rooms in every parish were built and paid for by the people who lived there.
Somehow it seems alien to the traditions of the GAA that a big call was made by a small few. For sure there has to be delegation – you can't have 500,000 people sitting around a table discussing the detail.
You'd have to see the logic of appointing a management committee to deal with TV rights, but this fundamental change should have been put to the members for a vote. Could it be the top table were worried that the motion would not succeed?
Sky will do an excellent job and the GAA fans living abroad will get to see live matches. For this reason alone we see great merit in allowing Sky to broadcast games. The GAA will score financially and some of the money will trickle down to the clubs.
There are stories from long ago of crowds gathering in kitchens to listen to the match on the only radio in the parish. So it is that people will go to neighbour's houses to watch matches on Sky and more will pay up or visit a pub. There may be some sense of putting RTE in their place. The pundits on RTE don't hold back. The GAA have often complained about Joe Brolly, Pat Spillane and Colm O'Rourke, but all three are honest in their beliefs – even if they are sometimes wrong.
Would I have allowed the Sky deal to go through? When I heard the news first I was seething. There will be kids whose parents can afford Sky and those who cannot. Young boys and girls will miss out on seeing the county team because they have no money. Some will be too embarrassed or shy to ask their school pals for a seat in front of the television with a Sky box. We know there are many other reasons, for and against.
For me, the showing of the games abroad is paramount. At the end of the day, our emigrants take preference. We let a whole generation down as a country and I believe Liam O'Neill, the outgoing president of the GAA, when he said the availability of the games to the diaspora was his overriding concern. The GAA have made a huge effort at promoting our games in far-flung places. There is hardly a big city anywhere in the world that doesn't have a GAA team. You're never alone when you're a member of a club.
The thinking time convinced me the decision to award games to Sky for this reason was right, but the process was flawed. There are thousands of GAA people who will disagree and their voices must be heard.
I was told the story of a farm labourer who voted against his boss at a stormy GAA meeting. The vote was in a rural club and it had to do with the lifting of the GAA ban.
The labourer voted for abolition. It was back in the late sixties when the strong farmer still ruled the land. Work was every bit as scarce as it is now and there was very little machinery. Men were 30 and 40 years a slave.
The day after the meeting the labourer was sent scouring dykes so wet and mucky you could meet a crocodile lurking behind a clump of rushes, but the farm worker accepted his punishment without a crib.
That honest man was king for a day and he voted the way he did so his young lad could play soccer or rugby without fear of reprisal.
That night, the boy had to take off his dad's coat. The father was unable to lift his arms above his head. The exhausted man was so cold after his day in the marshy dyke, the big fire couldn't warm him and he shook all over. His story was told to me by the farm worker's son and he was the one who asked me to pose this question.
Will ye allow the kids and the unemployed in for free to all exclusive Sky games?
We won't be long finding out if this selling off of games to Sky really is all about looking after our emigrants.