RTÉ’s head of sport has dismissed claims that The Sunday Game has been setting the agenda for the GAA’s disciplinary decisions, describing as "overstated" any influence the programme may actually have, the Irish Examiner has reported.
The weekend show has highlighted a number of incidents in recent years, some of which have gone unnoticed or unpunished by referees, after which protagonists have been handed suspensions and/or fines.
"I think that can be overstated," said RTÉ’s sports chief Ryle Nugent.
"The Sunday Game tends to be the first port of call to reaction that’s happening around the country on a Sunday evening. I don’t believe for one second that if we didn’t do it on a Sunday evening it wouldn’t be done on a Monday or a Tuesday in most cases.
"We are front and centre because we get first bite of the cherry at it, but that doesn’t mean people wouldn’t have similar or differing opinions based on what they saw themselves on a Monday morning or a Tuesday morning."
Those words were echoed by Central Competitions Control Committee chairman Seamus Woods after an incident between Paul Galvin and Eoin Cadogan last June when he described as "ridiculous" claims that The Sunday Game was the arbiter for what should and should not be investigated further.
Nugent also rejected the suggestion that RTÉ and its programme were being scapegoated by some within the Gaelic games and added that criticism was a natural bedfellow to any broadcasters covering sport in all its various codes.
"We are in the opinion business, that’s what we do. We put our contributors, panellists and broadcasters there to offer an opinion. My major concern is that it is fair and balanced. That’s all we ask of our contributors.
"They are entitled to their opinions. We pay them for their opinions. If people then believe those opinions shouldn’t have been aired or are inappropriate or unfair once we have been balanced I am okay with that.
"If people say they don’t like it, do I understand it? Yeah, of course I understand it. I can’t go around saying our people are entitled to an opinion and those that view it aren’t allowed to fundamentally disagree. Of course they are.
"Criticism doesn’t bother me, absolutely not. It’s part of what we do. (If) you don’t get a reaction you’d be a little bit worried."
The Sunday Game is returning for its 33rd year on air in the weeks to come while RTÉ will begin its 2011 championship coverage with the live broadcasting of Donegal and Antrim in the Ulster Championship this weekend.
That will be one of 40 live games shown this year after the GAA’s decision to cut the number by one-fifth for the three-year rights package which runs to 2013. RTÉ will screen 31 of those fixtures while TV3 secured the other nine.
RTÉ’s monopoly of live radio broadcasts will also fall by the wayside this year with Newstalk entering that particular market, all of which makes this year’s championship the most competitive ever on the nation’s airwaves.