Sport Ireland hits back at GPA's 'significant inaccuracies' over new drug testing procedures
The Head of Sport Ireland's anti-doping committee, Dr Una May, has hit back at what she termed "significant inaccuracies" in a statement issued by the GPA to its members yesterday.
The players' body stated that payments to players through the Government grants scheme was being withheld at the "11th hour" due to a development that required "members sign up to a range of new measures including the provision of home address for home drug testing".
In an update sent to all members, the GPA's acting CEO Seamus Hickey outlined: "Sport Ireland is withholding the payment of the 2017 and future State grants unless GPA members sign up to a range of new measures including the provision of home address for home drug testing.
"As currently stated in the Sport Ireland anti-doping rules, only a limited number of athletes on a Registered Testing Pool are subject to home testing.
"Should the GPA agree to these new terms, all inter-county players would be subject to home testing which, in our view is a wholly unreasonable demand on amateur athletes.
"We have in recent weeks consulted with you, the player base, through our Player Engagement Officers on this issue and the feedback from across the country has been overwhelmingly against at home testing."
Hickey continued: "To us it is unfathomable why Sport Ireland consider these new measures to be necessary and why at the 11th hour they are linking them to the payment of State grants without any prior agreement with us on the issue."
However, Dr May insists parts of the statement were wrong. "There are significant inaccuracies in the statement that went out to the players," May told the Irish Independent.
"I guess the most notable of that is the reference to the '11th hour'. Last year when the agreement was signed, it was signed subject to an addendum which was to strengthen the anti-doping program.
"We have been in discussion with the GPA since December to come to an agreement on the best way to achieve that.
"In April, at the most recent of a number of meetings, the GAA and ourselves came out of a meeting believing we had reached agreement with the GPA.
"That agreement was that, in 2019, we would expect to receive the addresses of players for them to receive their grants and that information would be used initially for the purposes of intelligence.
"So, there is no 11th hour about it, we agreed they would take some time to explain to their players."
Dr May insisted that having an address would help strengthen the anti-doping scheme.
"It means if we receive information we can clarify it and [discover] if it leads to an individual," she explained.
"For example, if we received information that said Joe Bloggs was in receipt of a prohibited substance for example, we would be able to corroborate the information we received with the address.
"That’s just one example. Intelligence in anti-doping covers a multitude."
Dr May also pointed out that under anti-doping guidelines, Sport Ireland already reserves the right to test athletes at home but, consistent with other team sports, does not intend to make home visits the main method of testing.
"It's never been our intention to make [home testing] a routine part of our programme," she said.
"But we have the right to test players in any sport, in any environment."
Both sides find themselves at an impasse. Dr May stated that in order for the 2017 grants to be paid, which will range between €750 to €1700, depending what competition they play in and the stage reached, acting GPA CEO and Limerick hurler Seamus Hickey would have to agree to supply addresses of GPA members next year.
Dr May confirmed that other athletes in receipt of State money, including those funded under the carding scheme, come under much closer scrutiny - including 24/7 whereabouts in some cases.
"We needed a commitment that, in 2019, the programme would be strengthened. So in year three of a three-year agreement, we were seeking the commitment that it would be strengthened in the final stages of the initiative," she explained
"In order to get that agreement, we said we would withhold the funding until we reached an agreement that we would get those addresses in 2019.
"We are allowing a year in which to bring players on board but we wouldn't release the funding until we received the commitment that in 2019 we wouldn't be in the same position and having the same discussion."
Sport Ireland is expected to contact the GAA and GPA today in a bid to clarify the matter.