THE Government was last night left in no doubt that the GAA will not contribute to the state-backed grants scheme for inter-county players.
And, crucially, the Gaelic Players Association made it clear that they ‘respect’ Croke Park’s policy and that there is no question of looking to them to make up the ‘shortfall’ as suggested by Sports Minister Martin Cullen.
In December 2007, when the Central Council formally approved the scheme, the GAA noted that the Government accepted ‘full responsibility for scale and continuity’ of the grants. And, they pointed out at the time that the GPA ‘had formally agreed and accepted’ that the Association had no responsibility in providing any future funding for it.
GAA President Christy Cooney yesterday re-iterated the GAA’s stance — ‘that responsibility for funding of the schemes is solely a matter for the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.’
He said: “The Department had always been aware that the GAA would not be contributing to the schemes and that this position had been accepted by both the Department and the GPA when the schemes were first proposed,’ he said in a statement.
Furthermore, he pointed out that the GPA had indicated that, in recognition of the economic climate, they were prepared to accept a reduction in funding for the schemes — on condition that it would be ‘in line’ with reductions made to other bodies and athletes.
Addressing this point, GPA spokesperson Sean Potts recalled that the scheme was introduced to address ‘the disparity’ that existed between GAA players and all other sports.
Potts said: “Professional sports people and elite amateur athletes were in receipt of state funding and the only people not in receipt were GAA players. We would accept cuts as long as they are proportionate.
“But, we don’t want to see that disparity being ‘recreated’ because of the recession.
“We’re echoing what the GAA said in their statement, that this was a tripartite agreement. The reason it took so long as it did was because of the GAA’s unique position in Irish society as an amateur organisation. We respect that position. We won’t be looking to the GAA to make up any shortfall. That was never in question.
“We just don’t understand what the Minister is trying to do by saying what he did.
“The GAA aren’t in a position to do what he was suggesting.”
Potts said the GPA doesn’t believe that there is a danger of the scheme being wound up. “We’d be hopeful the principle will be protected, given how important it was in the first place to bring parity of esteem to these players.
“We believe it would be a retrograde step to wind it up. But, we would accept cuts in line with everyone else.”
However Minister Cullen, speaking at the Irish Sports Council’s 2008 Anti-Doping Annual Report, was sticking to his guns on the matter.
“We now have the revised final estimate for the current year,” he said. “Obviously there are not as much resources in that budget — no more than there were in any other budgets in previous years and that poses certain challenges.
“I said yesterday when I was speaking in the Dáil that the Sports Council have to look across all of the areas that are being funded.
“I have no issue with the GAA players being funded. They are superb athletes and put an enormous effort into it. The point is that I don’t have the same resources to give to the Sports Council that we would have had in the past. The second point I was making in a broader sense going forward — the taxpayers through the Department over the past number of years have put huge resources into major capital facilities which now have the capacity to earn huge revenues, particularly for the larger sporting bodies.
“I think it is not fair that the taxpayer, solely, would continue to fund elements that had not been funded in the past. I think there is a debate needed on some of those issues.
“There are a lot of sports that I want to support who don’t have the capacity to generate huge revenue yet we have very good athletes involved who can participate internationally for this country and they get fairly small money.
“You just can’t reduce that money any further because it is relatively small but it is enough to make the difference in terms of these athletes being able to compete in many different sports. There is a balance to be struck.
“We have a strategic review under way at the moment which should be finished in the next few months of the sort of investment that has been made over the number of years — over €1bn has been spent on sports facilities throughout the country — and I think we need to look at what do we need strategically, regionally, for the future.”
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