GAA sells its soul
The GAA has this week bowed to the demands of the Gaelic Players Association by announcing details of an scheme whereby individual players will be allowed earn 50 percent of sponsorship deals they accrue, the remainder going to the organisation.
This players' endorsement scheme is a further recognition of the creeping commercialisation of Gaelic games and a case of the GAA keeping an ear to rumblings from star and budding star players. The organisation will have been heavily influenced by the GPA's deal last month with recruitment company Marlborough.
How signicant is this? Remember, the GAA is a nonprofit organisation, a voluntary body built up over generations by people giving their all out of passion for the game, in terms of time, commitment and money. It is not by accident that the majority of GAA players have clubhouses in which to tog out (which are also used for community events and social functions).
The top players have always done well out of the GAA. The fact that they were stars meant that their employers were, by and large, extremely accommodating to requests for time off, thus subsidising their play. Players with profiles had status in their communities and counties and the trappings and perks that come with such celebrity. Many ended up in good jobs in sales and marketing.
How many CVs were improved by such a record? How many interview panels were influenced? How many deals clinched? Indeed, how many have scored off the pitch because of their reputations?
In this Celtic Tiger era, however, this is obviously not enough. In Tom McGurk's words, ``the smart boys are looking for a few bobs when their legs are still young''.
So what is wrong with this? Isn't sport just another branch of entertainment after all? And who shouldn't be allowed milk their talent for all it is worth?
But the GAA is not a professional sporting body. It is not just about county players, sung or unsung. Cork hurler and GPA member Brian Corcoran, one of the public faces of that body, believes that his star status is his to market as he chooses. But how did he get to be where he is today?
True, top players are highly skilled individuals, but where would they be without the GAA? Who fundraised and gave up their free time to make sure there was a pitch and a club house in their local areas in the first place? Who set up and coached youth teams so that they had something to do of an evening? Who identified and nurtured their talent? Who is going to pay these people? Out of whose 50% does that come?
What about the jerseys and kits washed? How much does that add up to in a year? In ten? What about those people who ferry carloads of kids to and from matches every weekend? Should they be allowed to submit invoices for their services and the time and expense involved?
What about the tea and sandwiches Brian Corcoran et al have enjoyed over the years? Can the GPA tell the volunteers responsible for these `lesser' chores where to send their bills, please?
Are all the ordinary players, coaches, match officials, grounds staff, canteen staff, drivers, etc, supposed to be in this for the love of the game, for the community spirit, for the children, for county pride, while that is not enough for the top players?
The stars of the GPA are not responsible for the popularity of Gaelic games. True, they have played their parts and their commitment to their craft is admirable, but the real strength of the GAA lies in its connectedness with its grassroots, its ordinary members and players. At its best, the GAA works on two levels. It is a community-based organisation with a network that extends the length and breadth of this country like no other, providing social and sporting bonds. And every summer, it can boast thrilling national championships, in men's and women's football, in hurling and camogie, all of which take place in a multi-million pound stadium that will be the pride of the nation when it is completed.
The money generated is ploughed back into the organisation and the sport, back into the communities that created it. In essence, the glue that holds all this together is amateurism and voluntarism. The GAA is a slice of our society and as such all its components are interdependant. Ownership of the GAA lies with every individual member and with all those non members whose lives it touches in so many ways. All these people can genuinely claim to own the GAA, to be equal stakeholders in the game.
In my humble opinion, the 50-50 deal proposed is too much, a step too far. This is the thin end of the wedge. Once the principle of allowing certain players to profit is established, there is no going back. The GAA then moves from being a cooperative organisation whose ownership is equally vested in all its members to being yet another casualty of the individualism and greed that is so synonymous of the Celtic Tiger.
The demands of these players cannot be married with the needs of a voluntary organisation. This new deal, or more correctly, the money generated by this new deal, will become a wedge to divide the organisation, encouraging greed, outrageous egotism, and just plain mé féinism.
Gaelic football and hurling are team pursuits. That team extends far beyond the 30 men or women on the pitch at any one time. Those who excel on the pitch deserve their plaudits, but by conceding to the GPA's demands, the GAA is allowing them to ransom the soul of the greatest amateur sporting organisation in the world.
BY ANNE MAGUIRE