Tuesday 25 September 2018

Why are the GAA held to much higher standards than other sports bodies when it comes to alcohol and betting companies?

Oisín McConville has spoken openly about his gambling addiction. His club Crossmaglen Rangers is backed by Bar One Racing in one of the few high-profile sponsorship deals with a betting company. Photo: Sportsfile
Oisín McConville has spoken openly about his gambling addiction. His club Crossmaglen Rangers is backed by Bar One Racing in one of the few high-profile sponsorship deals with a betting company. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The first item on the GAA's Congress agenda in Croke Park on Saturday will have nothing to do directly with players, games, fixtures or competitions. Indeed, it will be unrelated to issues that exercise the membership on a day-to-day basis.

Instead, delegates will enter the Association's social concerns department, approve an exclusion order for bookmakers and serve it up in the form of a new rule: "Sponsorship by a betting company of any competition, team, playing gear or facility is prohibited."

Mind you, the impact will be minimal, since sponsorship by bookmakers is relatively rare in the GAA. Crossmaglen Rangers - backed by Bar One Racing - is the highest-profile unit involved with a betting company and while there are some other local arrangements, they are not sufficiently prevalent to demand a new rule.

Addictions

So why is the GAA about to chalk bookmakers off the list of potential sponsors, especially since they never had a national deal with any of them? It's a social conscience concern, a feeling feel they have a responsibility to disassociate themselves from a business which carries the risk of addiction for a small minority.

The GAA are particularly active in various addiction areas through its Community and Health programme, headed by former Leitrim footballer Colin Regan.

High-profile players Oisín McConville, Niall McNamee and Davy Glennon have spoken openly about their gambling addictions as part of a campaign to highlight the issue.

It's all very laudable and, no doubt, the GAA's sponsorship ban on bookmakers will be welcomed by agencies dealing with addictions.

Now let's consider what would happen if Congress voted down the proposal. It would spark a wave of outrage, with accusations that the GAA don't care a jot about social problems.

We know that because of the annual beatings the GAA took during the Guinness sponsorship of the All-Ireland hurling championships.

You could set your clock by it. Guinness hosted launches in May every year, after which the GAA would be roundly criticised for dealing with an alcoholic drinks company.

A consistent flow of medical people - usually the same ones - surfaced every summer to lecture the GAA about its social responsibilities. You would think that every problem caused by alcohol was down to the Guinness sponsorship.

Curiously, Heineken's sponsorship of the European Rugby Cup attracted much less attention. The competition even morphed into the 'Heineken Cup' (Heino for short!), with no reference to rugby or Europe.

When I once asked a doctor, who was particularly strident in his criticism of the GAA's deal with Guinness, why he adopted a different approach to the Heineken Cup, he offered an interesting response, one that didn't reflect well on the media.

"I'm just as opposed to Heineken's links with rugby but I rarely get asked about it by the media but every summer before the start of the hurling championships, I will take several calls on the Guinness sponsorship," he said.

Guinness ended their links with the hurling championships in 2012, possibly because of the constant negativity. Having grown uncomfortable over the arrangement, the GAA were happy to move on too, even if they had been effectively bullied into the decision.

So, presumably any other sporting organisation that maintained sponsorship links with drink companies could expect similar hostility to what the GAA endured.

Not at all. The IRFU continue to find that Guinness is good for them, not just locally but internationally too with Wales, Scotland, Italy and South Africa for the Pro14 club competition.

They proudly describe Guinness as 'official beer to the IRFU' on their website. Ireland's autumn internationals are dubbed 'The Guinness Series', with the company's name and logo painted on the pitch.

If the GAA did likewise on All-Ireland final day during their link-up with Guinness, it would have sparked a Constitutional crisis, yet the IRFU's promotion of Guinness goes largely unchallenged. As for the FAI, their website lists Carlsberg as 'official beer sponsors' and Ladbrokes as 'official betting sponsors'.

Why are the GAA held to different standards than other sporting organisations on links with drink and betting companies? It happens well beyond the sponsorship area too.

Corporate

Rugby clubs peddle international match tickets as revenue-raisers, selling them on to corporate interests at vastly inflated prices, yet any time a county board attempts to use even a tiny percentage of their All-Ireland final ticket allocation to help team costs, it's depicted as a heinous betrayal.

And then there's the contrast in how GAA players are expected to behave by comparison with professionals from other sports.

If a GAA player is even seen in a pub during the season, he is classed as a disgrace. He may be sipping water but that won't insulate him from reports of how he was downing pints at an alarming rate. Fake news, but so what?

It's a ridiculous level of scrutiny which is not visited on rugby or soccer players at any level.

For whatever reason, the GAA are expected to conform to higher standards on social issues than other sporting organisations. It's as if an international dimension absolves others of responsibility when, in fact, it should be all the greater for that.

Irish Independent

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