THE GAA last night rejected the ESRI/Irish Sports Council findings that Gaelic games were no longer the most popular sport for Irish children, claiming that participation in GAA at youth level was at an all-time high.
“I think they [findings] are completely off the wall,” a GAA spokesperson said. “This has been designed for nothing other than publicity.
“Our participation levels, particularly at youth level has increased hugely. All you have to do is walk through the suburbs of Dublin, walk through south Co Dublin. Twenty years ago it had probably two clubs, look at an area like Templeogue and I’ll give you clubs that didn’t exist 20 years ago.
“This is an exercise in sensationalism,” he said.
The study found that GAA has been overtaken by soccer and swimming.
A survey of three age groups, 45-59, 30-44 and 18-29, found that GAA games were the favourite when the oldest group were children, but had fallen in popularity a generation later.
“For members of the oldest cohort, combining football and hurling/camogie, gaelic games accounted for over 40% of all sport they played as children, roughly twice the combined strength of soccer and swimming.
“But for the 18-29 years cohort, a generation or so later, both gaelic games had been overtaken by swimming and soccer.
“In the space of one generation, the near dominance of children’s sport by Gaelic games disappeared.”
The report found that there was generally a relative decline in gaelic games compared with the rapid rise in individual sports like jogging, swimming and going to the gym.
Sports Minister Martin Cullen played down the findings, saying the GAA numbers had remained consistent but that there was merely a rise in other sports.
“What’s happening is that there is a growth in other sports, and particularly in individual sports and obviously the population is growing,” he said.
“It is a challenge, but I would have thought that the investment in all the infrastructure, the smaller clubs, has helped the GAA, the soccer, the rugby and all that through the last few years.
“But they have a challenge to mind their sports; it’s a competitive business with kids.”
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