Michael Moynihan: Sports make their cases for rescue funding

Michael Moynihan: Sports make their cases for rescue funding

FAI interim CEO Gary Owens at Dáil Éireann on Friday. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Last Friday, representatives of the FAI, GAA, and IRFU went to meet the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, and they duly painted a stark picture.

Philip Browne of the IRFU said the very existence of professional rugby was in peril in Ireland because of revenue lost to the virus and associated measures to combat it.

Gary Owens of the FAI admitted to concerns about the 2021 League of Ireland and next summer’s European Championships.

Tom Ryan and John Horan of the GAA were more focused on the challenge of getting spectators back to Gaelic games, but Horan has indicated in the past that the GAA is looking at a €50m shortfall as a result of the virus.

For context: The Government has stated that it will offer a €40m rescue package to the three main field sports, though other revenue sources will be made available by the Government as well — among them a resilience fund of up to €10m, which was established to support national governing bodies of sport, a sports club resilience fund (of up to €15m) as well as a sports restart and renewal fund of up to €5m.

Based on their performances last Friday, which organisation will get what it’s looking for?

FAI man Owens was upfront, saying his organisation would be looking for €19.2m in support, or half of the proposed total. By putting a figure on the table, Owens was probably using the best tactic available to him — but the FAI’s position is not a strong one. Earlier this year it revealed debts of €62m and eventually the Government had to step in and bail the organisation out with a funding package of up to €20m over the next three years — before the virus ever became a factor, a time when all were blissfully ignorant of the connotations of a level three lockdown.

Last Friday, Owens said: “This time we are not responsible and we are not alone,” but his case was also seriously undermined by the publication the day before of Champagne Football by Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan.

This book chronicles, in cringe-inducing detail, the exploits of former FAI chief John Delaney. Accounts in the book of Delaney’s James Bond-themed 50th birthday party in particular cast an Alan Partridge-shaped shadow over the FAI’s pleas for money at the Oireachtas committee.

In contrast, the IRFU and GAA could point to relatively sober challenges: The former could point out that the professional game in Ireland, in the shape of the national side and the four provinces, generated 96% of the IRFU’s €87.5m income for 2018/9.

There’s an echo here of how the GAA generates its central revenue stream: For 2010, that came to around €74m, and the Gaelic Players Association estimates that 90% of that revenue is generated by the inter-county game. In both cases, the GAA and IRFU can make a strong case for financial support based on the circular funding model driven by its own members; the GAA would no doubt add that 84% of its revenue is recycled out to the organisation as a whole.

Still, Tom Ryan made probably the most telling point at last Friday’s meeting when summing up the effect of the virus — and the effort members were making.

“That comes at a cost to people, to people who are doing things in their own spare time, out of the goodness of their heart,” he said. “We owe those people an awful lot.

“That’s why I wouldn’t want the focus to be predominantly on the financial. The financial is important because that’s what keeps us viable.”

A strong point and one worth making.

Daggers at drawn but guns never fired at green table

A few weeks ago here I mentioned the green table, the sometimes-real, sometimes-imagined disciplinary location used in GAA circles in Cork. I say sometimes-real because there are occasions when a baize-topped table is used for such hearings, and sometimes-imagined because not all disciplinary meetings are held atop a snooker table.

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when news broke of an incident in Georgia. A rugby player, Ramaz Kharazishvili, was shot in the leg at the Georgia rugby union offices last Wednesday, and since then the police have taken into custody one Merab Beselia — the vice-president of the Georgian rugby union.

Thankfully Kharazishvili’s injuries are not life-threatening though it’s unclear whether he will return to the game — a former captain of the national side, he’s now 32, so perhaps time is against him when it comes to rehab.

I surely can’t be the only one trying to work out what precisely was the conversation which led to a high-ranking official pulling out a gun, though. Was it a discussion about a possible suspension that escalated quickly?

If so, expect all disciplinary hearings in sport across the entire continent of Europe to be suddenly rescheduled with a view to mutual protection as quickly as possible.

Big Ten is where (electoral) politics and sport collide

Just a bulletin here for those who continue to seek a separation between politics and sport.

News broke last week that the Big Ten conference in the US would return to play football next month.

The Big Ten is a regional group of colleges in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, etc, whose teams play each other.

Earlier this year it looked like the coronavirus had ended the prospect of a playing season — but now the teams will take the field starting in October.

The virus has had an impact on college sports teams in America. A Louisiana State University coach said, “I think most, not all of our players, but most of our players have caught it,” while the official guidelines for return to play suggest “student-athletes must receive clearance from a cardiologist designated by the university for the primary purpose of cardiac clearance for Covid-19 positive student-athletes.”

Apart from the sheer craziness — ‘well, you had the virus but relax, we’ll get this signature and you’re all set’ — what’s the big deal?

Donald Trump has boasted on Twitter that he intervened, pressuring the Big Ten conference to resume play (its commissioner, Kevin Warren, said only that he had had a “productive and interesting” conversation with Trump).

Again: So?

Observers have pointed out that the Big Ten conference includes states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, swing states which are likely to be very important in the US presidential election.

Moreover, Trump has admitted his anger with challenger Joe Biden’s campaign running TV ads showing empty college football stadia in Michigan, Wisconsin...

Now do you get the idea?

The real Hornby is back with a new book

Nick Hornby has a new book out.

Hornby has a lot to answer for, because, almost 30 years ago, he legitimised a lot of boring rip-offs thanks to two original books of his own, High Fidelity and Fever Pitch.

High Fidelity is brilliant but quite a few of its imitators are not, to put it mildly.

Ditto Fever Pitch, which even survived being reimagined (if that’s not a contradiction) as the tale of a Boston Red Sox fan.

Since those days, Hornby has been a successful screenwriter, but his books are always worth checking out, so throw an eye over Just Like You.

Contact: michael.moynihan @examiner.ie

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