THE GAA’s efforts to instigate alcohol and substance abuse awareness programmes is “tokenism” in light of its receipt of alcohol sponsorship, former Tipperary hurler John Leahy has claimed.
Now a qualified addiction counsellor, who works with the HSE and voluntary bodies, Mr Leahy said the GAA’s stance on helping its members overcome any problems with drink or drug abuse were hampered by a lack of resources on the ground.
He also said he was aware of “a good few players, local, county level, that have used illegal drugs” and that alcohol is also an issue for others within Gaelic games.
The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) said its own counselling programme for current and former inter-county players had been “overrun” since it was established 15 months ago, with alcohol one of the issues prompting the higher-than-expected take-up.
However, it said current players among its 2,200 members were regularly and “vigorously” drug-tested, including out-of-competition, and so far not one positive test for recreational drugs had been found.
John Leahy said that while the GAA’s acceptance of sponsorship from Guinness for the All-Ireland Hurling Championship in recent years indicated that alcohol is “acceptable”, similar financial outlay had not been forthcoming for the ASAP (Alcohol Substance Abuse Prevention) programme at club level. The GAA said it did not keep statistics regarding the number of players who may have addiction issues and that its focus is on preventing problems in the first instance.
Brendan Murphy, who coordinates the GAA’s ASAP programme nationally and who is praised by Leahy for his work, said: “The GAA reduced its level of alcohol sponsorship when it ended the Guinness Senior Hurling Championship and renamed it the GAA Senior Hurling Championship. The county boards no longer have any alcohol sponsorship and almost all of the clubs have phased it out too.”
As for personnel on the ground, he said 1,500 club ASAP officers had been appointed across the 32 counties, following the appointment of four provincial officers and then 32 county officers. But Mr Leahy said: “I suppose the GAA has been a bit unfair in asking these people to be responsible and I know well what has happened in some clubs is they have become the ASAP officer in the club and people presume that they are the expert. So what happens? The problems are handed over to this guy or girl [who may not have the knowledge].
“The structure, the policy, what they are saying and what they are giving out is absolutely brilliant but the GAA, I would have felt, needed to employ a lot more people to roll it out.”
Mr Leahy, a former All-Ireland winner and someone who also experienced problems with alcohol, said: “I know a good few players, local, county level, that have used illegal drugs, it’s not uncommon, whether they are ever found I don’t know, if they have ever been searched I wouldn’t think so, from a drug point of view.
“I know of cases of players with a drink problem, I get phone calls very often from players with problems with drink. I have met a lot of profile players, I suppose, in my time as well, I have dealt with problems, putting people in touch with treatment centres.”
It emerged earlier this year that the GAA, in cooperation with the IRFU and the FAI, had sent a request to Fine Gael and Labour prior to the formation of the new government asking that there be no ban on alcohol sponsorship within sport.
Sean Potts, spokesman for the GPA said that it had been surprised with the high take-up for counselling sessions with its eight counsellors around the country.
He said alcohol was one of the reasons for players seeking counselling, but far from the only one, particularly among ex-players who he called a “vulnerable demographic”.
The GPA is not opposed to alcohol sponsorship but Mr Potts said many younger players are not drinking at all to improve their game.
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