Dessie Farrell: Here's why players deserve a rise in funding

Information relating to the GPA’s negotiations with Government on a new funding scheme for players was

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published in this paper a fortnight ago, prompting subsequent commentary high on populist outrage but, strikingly, short on historical fact and respectful deliberation.

The principle behind Government funding for inter-county players hasn’t changed since it was first agreed in 2007. The State provides financial support for amateur athletes in a variety of codes and tax exemptions for retired Irish professional sports people. What the players successfully lobbied for was, quite simply, parity of esteem for hurlers and footballers, a status commensurate with those recognised in other circles.

The State, in certain circumstances, provides tax exemptions for artists, composers, writers... even for historical publications; in essence for people who enhance our lives and contribute to our society in an extraordinary way.

To bolster the players’ original principled argument, an independent economic impact study was published by Indecon in 2010 showing that the total annual spending generated by inter-county GAA fixtures was then €484.5m, translating into real value to the Irish economy of €193.3m.

Putting it even more starkly, every inter-county player generates on average €100,000 of real value annually for the Irish economy.

In return, last year’s championship panellists received a grant ranging between €295 and €667 per player.

It is correct to assert that many inter-county players are ‘outstanding individuals’ who contribute hugely to their communities and their societies, but to oppose grant support for them is to differentiate those players from the beneficiaries of State funding detailed above.

The Freedom of Information report detailed an outline plan to develop a social contract between Government and players to support important public initiatives. This work is not being suggested in lieu of funding, it is being done so because, quite frankly, it is the right thing to do.

County players are inundated with requests from public bodies and charities to support social initiatives, all of which value the profile and appeal of the local hero and county squad. Just ask Special Olympics Ireland, Childhood Cancer Foundation, Headstrong, Pieta House, Aware, Unicef, Jigsaw, YesEquality, Red Cross, deterMND, Jump Autism Support and Movember to name just a few.

Supporting public initiatives will help formalise the relationship between players and Government, it is mutually beneficial. And why on earth is it a negative to suggest that the State should harness GAA visits abroad to promote the country and the unique cultural value of our indigenous games?

Players had no issue whatsoever with the FOI revelations though figures were naturally redacted as negotiations are still ongoing and about to recommence with the new administration.

Also, detailed proposals have been drafted but are not included in that correspondence.

Players make absolutely no secret that they will lobby intensely for a new agreement with increased funding and it is players who will be sitting at the negotiating table.

When the recession struck, the funding scheme for GAA players was disproportionately affected, and that situation is now being addressed. Cuts were accepted but the principle of the scheme was protected throughout despite the 75% reduction in its value.

At the moment, we are acutely aware that many players are struggling with the demands of the inter-county game today, physically, emotionally and financially.

The original scheme to provide State funding acknowledged that, as GAA players were amateurs performing at elite levels, their commitment was likely to incur a financial cost.

That position remains unchanged. And it’s important to note, all Government funding goes directly to county players.

There are many people earning a living on the back of inter-county football and hurling, some are vocal in opposing player grants. They are, of course, entitled to their opinion, but players’ attitudes have changed, they have an acute understanding of how they are harnessed commercially.

Despite opposition to the grants scheme, players have always been supported by a less vocal majority which helped carry the original argument in 2007. And, as one player remarked this week, where on earth do the opponents of the scheme think the grant money will be spent but in the very communities where the players reside?

The GPA does not stand in judgment of county players; they are respected and supported unconditionally by the players’ body which will carry their torch to Leinster House once again.

And the Association stands, steadfastly, over the principle that county players contribute enormously to the social and cultural fabric of this country.

This summer, the lives of countless Irish people will be consumed by the fortunes of their county teams, by the epic drama unfolding on county grounds, by the heroism and athletic prowess of their county players. They help fill stadiums, trains, restaurants, garages, bars and hotels, they fill newspaper pages, history books, radio programmes and television screens. they fill, and break, our hearts.

One thing is for sure, there isn’t an inter-county player today who believes plans to re-establish Government grants is doing them a disservice.


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