Grant issue now a serious distraction

GPA members are still waiting on their 2017 State grants to be paid and they’re getting fed up, writes Séamus Hickey. 

The reason they aren’t yet paid?

Sport Ireland won’t pay out unless GPA players agree to new conditions, including in relation to home drug testing.

It is the view of the GPA that Sport Ireland have no right to withhold these funds under existing rules, as our members have always been in full compliance with the rules in this area.

The new Sport Ireland conditions regarding the payment of 2017 grants were only flagged to the GPA in recent weeks (first flagged on December 18, 2017) without prior notice, leaving us with little time to consult with our membership about how they could be practically implemented.

Don’t forget, inter-county players are amateur athletes who spend on average 40 hours a week on their inter-county commitments (and another 35 hours a week either working or studying or often both) so any new requirements of them will need to be agreed in advance.

We’ve been working exhaustively for weeks with Sport Ireland officials trying to resolve the issue and to get the grants paid, but as of now the 2017 grants remain sitting in Sport Ireland accounts.

Many of our members, on the other hand, are struggling financially. Hundreds of third-level students who are currently finishing their final exams have little or no source of income, as many do not have time for part-time employment, due to their playing and college commitments.

This issue is also serving as a significant distraction for players’ preparations for the championship in squads all over the country and needs to be resolved as a matter of

Since first introduced in 2008, inter-county hurlers and footballers have received a payment from the State at this time of year of between €670 to just over €1,500.

The scheme was established to recognise the outstanding contribution of Gaelic inter-county players to our indigenous sport, to meet additional costs associated with elite team performance and to encourage aspiring teams and players to reach the highest levels of sporting endeavour.

The amount is based on performance in the championships that year. These payments are to help cover some of the expenses incurred by players during the course of the year while playing for their county.

However, this year Sport Ireland have told the GPA that they won’t pay the grants until players agree to new measures, including at-home drug testing, where a Sport Ireland representative can come to a player’s house at any time and take a blood or urine sample.

The GPA membership is committed to clean sport, as demonstrated by our full cooperation with blood testing in and out of competition since 2016.

GPA players are among the most tested athletes in Sport Ireland’s National Testing Programme and have no problem being so, yet, to date, only two positive tests have been recorded against inter-county players since testing began in 2001.

It is unfathomable why Sport Ireland consider these new measures to be necessary and why, at the 11th hour, they are linking them to the payment of State grants without any prior agreement with the GPA.

Our members are in full compliance with and supportive of current Sport Ireland anti-doping rules, yet their funding is now being withheld. This is neither fair nor reasonable.

We want Sport Ireland to immediately pay our members their 2017 grants and then to work with us to agree on any new requirements and how they can be met by our membership in future. We too are passionate about moving the clean sport agenda forward.

It’s what we all want, but withholding funding for expenses already incurred by our members is not the way to do it.

Seamus Hickey is CEO of the Gaelic Players Association.

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