Professionalism will be major challenge for GAA, says Gilroy

Pat Gilroy: Success of TV coverage in US and UK would drive calls to pay players.

Former All-Ireland winning Dublin football manager Pat Gilroy has predicted professionalism is going to become a major challenge for the GAA.

Gilroy’s comments are contained in a new report on the Irish public’s sporting attitudes and habits, which reveals nearly three-quarters of adults favour “some sort of compensation for (GAA) players” in the future.

As for GAA fans specifically, that figure rises to 80%.

The Philip Lee Sport Report is the result of a poll of 1,000 people nationwide, which was conducted in May.

Some 43% of respondents stated that they disagreed with the GAA’s current ban on paying players. Just 32 % agreed with full amateurism while the rest were undecided.

Former Ireland soccer international Niall Quinn, an All-Ireland minor hurling finalist as a teenager, said he “can’t see how we can continue to develop sport in Ireland on the basis of voluntary effort and involvement, including GAA players”.

The report follows the recent suggestion by GAA pundit and former All-Ireland winning manager Eugene McGee that a form of play for play is likely within 10 years.

Writing in the report, Gilroy predicted that the same problems faced by Irish rugby clubs following the advent of professionalism are likely to come before the GAA at some stage.

“At the professional level, it seems to me that professionalism has made sport worse in many cases,” writes Gilroy.

“Sports aren’t meant to be just elitist, only for the best.

“I think the experience of rugby in Ireland has been mixed. In some regards, it may have professionalised too quickly, creating problems ‘down the ranks’ at club level.

“Nevertheless, I expect the GAA will face the same challenges in the next 50 years, especially if the sport takes off in the UK and United States, driven by TV broadcasting (and initiatives such as GAA GO).”

The report also deals with the broadcast deal struck by the GAA with Sky Sports earlier this year.

It entitles Sky Sports to exclusive access to 14 championship games as well as shared rights to the All-Ireland semi-finals and finals in both codes.

Of those polled, almost half were against the agreement while just 37% were in favour.

By far the strongest fear of those against the deal was that less people would have access to view live games than previously.

Many were concerned that the Sky money “won’t trickle down to the grassroots level”, while 15% felt “the sale of these rights is a first step towards paying players”.

Elsewhere in the report, almost two thirds of respondents said they agreed with sponsorship by alcohol brands if a sports organisation requires it to survive financially. Around a third were against it in any form.


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