‘Big four’ of GAA, soccer, rugby and racing join forces in show of strength

A new alliance and lobby group representing the interests of jockeys, GAA, soccer, and rugby players, is set to be launched in the coming weeks.

Yesterday, top officials of the Gaelic Players Association, the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland, Rugby Players Ireland, and the Irish Jockey’s Association, met to put the finishing touches to the constitution for a new umbrella body which is the result of more than two years of discussion between the four sports.

“Going to Government as an individual group can be quite difficult but a collective body gives you a lot more strength,” said Stephen McGuinness, general secretary of the footballers’ union, the PFAI.

“There’s also a huge amount of information-sharing and best practice which can be far better done under the auspices of an alliance of the four major sports — and when I say major sports I mean in terms of being organised as players’ unions. As of now, we’ve come to the end of setting up the constitution and we’re looking at an official launch in late March or early April.”

Mental health, tax reliefs, dual careers, and player development are just a few examples McGuinness offers of the kind of issues on which the alliance believes it can more effectively lobby Government and dispense advice.

“Ther are all sorts of challenges sports people face day, in day out,” he said, “and we feel if we pool our resources we can get a far better and more cost-effective service for our members.

“Also, if any individual sport or union comes up for criticism, it’s always good to have someone at your back to support you.”

Longer term, he envisages the alliance expanding to take other sports under its wing. It will also be able to offer guidance on setting up a representative organisations in sports where none exists.

“There’s no reason why as four established unions in this country we shouldn’t assist other athletes or players to set up their own organisations and then come under our umbrella,” he said. “It’s not just players at the bottom end, players at the top end still need guidance and help.

“In my experience with the PFAI, I have found that whenever I go to Government to lobby for funding the first thing I’m told is: ‘Go and speak to your federation, that’s who we fund’. I think we would be far stronger as a united group that represents the top level sports people in the country.

“Federations have got themselves organised and to a certain extent players’ bodies have too but we have a lot more to do.”

The name of the new alliance will be unveiled at its official launch.

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