At the end of February, details were announced of a website, supported by the GAA and the GPA, set up specifically for the Irish market, with consumers able to avail of discounts compared to store prices and the proceeds generating funding for player welfare and development programmes.
Concerns have been expressed by independent retailers, however, with Ger Wyley, a Dungarvan-based footwear and sportswear merchant, yesterday publishing an open letter to GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell. In it, he outlines a fear that local shops, long-time supporters of clubs, may be forced out of business.
“I have been in business for the last 24 years and during this time I have had a close association with and have been a staunch supporter of the Waterford County Board and all of the local clubs,” Wyley wrote.
“Only last week, I paid the annual sponsorship sum of €2,000 to Dungarvan Juvenile GAA Club. I am also a member of this club and purchase weekly lotto tickets. I sponsor at least 14 other local GAA clubs through race nights, raffles, vouchers etc. I also purchase Déise draw tickets and attend local and inter-county games, thereby contributing locally and nationally to the GAA.
“To date, in association with Skins, we have sponsored €75,000 worth of Skins product for the Waterford senior hurling panel. With the GPA/GAA encouraging its members (myself included) and supporters to purchase not only boots but also runners on gaelicboots.com, we will no longer be in a position to continue this level of sponsorship.”
Wyley also drew attention to the fact the site is an operation of Sports Direct, the company run by Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley.
“How can the GPA expect to get sports grants for inter-county players from the Irish government while at the same time asking its members and supporters to purchase footwear from an English-registered company with the VAT going to the British government – VAT No GB 898439743.
“I have two GAA players currently employed, one being an inter-county player. With gaelicboots.com taking business from me how does your association propose to protect their jobs?
“The GPA/GAA have given Sports Direct access to the Irish market without carrying any of the costs we incur — rates, insurance, light/heat, advertising, wages, to mention a few. We contribute greatly to the local economy which in turn contributes to the GPA/GAA. If you continue to direct business abroad we will all suffer, e.g. local media depend on our advertising to survive and the GPA/GAA depend on them to publicise their games. By hitting us you are removing a link that breaks the chain.
“Next year should we direct our county board and local clubs to the GPA, GAA head office or sportsdirect.com for sponsorship? This partnership appears to have been hastily conceived and ill-thought-out. I urge you and your colleagues to consider the long term ramifications of this deal. To conclude, online shopping is a fact of life but it is a travesty of justice for a national organisation to be promoting the purchase of merchandise from a UK-registered company.”
Unfortunately for Wyley, his protests are unlikely to bring about change. Cork Central Council delegate Des Cullinane said: “The deal is in place and the contract is signed, there is nothing else which can be done.
“Maybe it can be looked at again next year, and clubs’ concerns will be discussed, but the bottom line is that nobody is being forced to buy the boots online.”