PAUL ROUSE: Grants an unspoken joke in the Greatest Amateur Association in the World

The final essential part of the farce is to claim the cash is justified because it is being used to support players playing “at the highest level”, writes Paul Rouse.

Like all the best farces, last week’s press announcement of the Government’s cash payments to the GAA’s inter-county players was played out with exquisite seriousness.

Everyone kept a straight face. The usual pious words were thrown around by Sport Ireland, by the Gaelic Players’ Association and by the Junior Minister for Sport, Patrick O’Donovan.

The detail is familiar: The Government gives cash to Sport Ireland who pass the cash on to the GAA who are said to be ‘working with’ the GPA to give the cash on to the players.

This cash varies from €519 to €1,066 per player, depending on their county’s performance in the previous year’s All-Ireland football and hurling Championships.

To insulate the cash transfers from all criticism, the farce relies on tying the ‘deal’ to putative campaigns around “mental health, obesity, adult literacy, and alcohol and drug misuse”. There is also the usual nod to the claim that inter-county players are “role models in Irish society and leaders in their community”.

And, of course, the final essential part of the farce is to claim the cash is justified because it is being used to support players playing “at the highest level”.

What made the farce so successful on this occasion was the deliciousness of its timing. Some 48 hours after the new payment was announced by the Government, the notion all inter-county GAA players are “elite athletes” was revealed for what it is.

Among the recipients of the cash will be members of the Kildare hurling team. They played Carlow in the quarter-final of the Christy Ring Cup last Saturday and did so without three of their best players.

David and Michael Reidy — two brothers from Limerick who had switched allegiance to play with Kildare in 2017 — chose to line out for Dromin-Athlacca in the opening round of the Limerick Intermediate Hurling Championship, where they faced Dromcollogher Broadford, ultimately winning by 18 points.

David Reidy, by the way, had hit 13 points when Kildare beat Mayo the previous weekend in the first round of the Christy Ring Cup to help his team win 0-17 to 0-16.

The other notable absentee from the Kildare team to play Carlow was John Mulhall, a former Kilkenny senior hurler who had also switched his allegiance to Kildare for 2017. He chose to play for his club St Martin’s in Round 2 of the Kilkenny senior hurling league against Carrickshock instead of togging out for the Kildare hurlers.

The decision to choose club over county in this instance laid bare the spurious notion of the divide between club and county as being the one that defines an ‘elite athlete’ within the GAA.

This divide has been used to create a lucrative revenue stream for inter-county players and those who staff their growing organisation.

Last summer the GAA hierarchy agreed an extraordinary deal which involved the transfer of millions of euro, as well as organisational power, to its 2,100 inter-county players. The announcement of that particular deal was conducted in a way that emphasised just how emphatically the language of elitism had triumphed and just how little practised (rather than rhetorical) respect actually existed for ordinary club members.

The agreement was justified by the GAA hierarchy as being a recognition of the contribution of inter-county players to the commercial success of the GAA and of the huge commitment given by and expected of them.

Naturally, of course, there was no suggestion that such a standard should be applied to — for example — the chairpersons, secretaries, and other officers of clubs around the country whose unpaid and often thankless work makes possible so much of what happens within the GAA.

Nor, of course, was it applied to those thousands of members who give so much of their lives and their own money in the service of GAA clubs at very level.

Nonetheless, it is one thing for the GAA to decide to hand over so many millions of its own money to the members of the inter-county Gaelic Players Association, but it is altogether another matter for the state to do likewise. It has never been explained why the Government should be giving cash to men who play inter-county football and hurling just because they play inter-county football and hurling.

This wheeze was first unveiled in 2007 by a Government whose reckless abuse of public money is unmatched in Irish history.

Now, though, after a reduction in the cash given to inter-county players during the worst of the financial crisis, the current Government recently approved an increase (of around 50%) in the money handed over.

This increase was awarded on the back of proposals submitted by the Inter-County Gaelic Players Association that were so slender, they could have fitted in a Tweet. The proposals were vague, incoherent, and so lacking in the basics of what might even pass for public policy that no serious politician should have acquiesced in them, regardless of the photo opportunities on offer.

And what of Sport Ireland? There is no organisation in the country more perfectly placed to understand the need for proper investment in sporting infrastructure, the sort of investment that might actually reap real dividends in tackling issues around mental health, obesity, and alcohol and drug misuse.

Sport Ireland must be entirely familiar with the international literature around the type of initiatives that are required to deal in a meaningful way with such challenges.

And Sport Ireland also understands precisely what is involved in the running of elite athlete programmes and understands, also, the criteria by which such programmes operate nationally and internationally.

Grants an unspoken joke in the Greatest Amateur Association in the World

In fairness, there is a muted tone to the endorsement given by John Treacy, the chief executive of Sport Ireland, in the press announcement issued last week. This suggests he understands precisely what is at issue here and is helpless to do anything other than play along.

That is revealing in itself and involvement in this process does no credit to Sport Ireland. Which brings us back to the farce again.

The best of farces run a sort of unspoken joke as a backdrop to the action on stage.

And the unspoken joke in this farce is to be found in its title: The Greatest Amateur Association in The World.


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