Sport Ireland (SI) have confirmed they are withholding Government grants due to inter-county players from last year — but on the basis that they don’t have an agreement in place with the GPA for future drug-testing measures.
SI director of participation and ethics Dr Una May stated for the funding being released, they were seeking a commitment to provide the home addresses of inter-county players for doping tests next year.
She said they and the GAA were led to believe the move was in principle acceptable to the official inter-county players body.
“There’s a lot of factual inaccuracies in the letter to the GPA players, which is a bit unfortunate,” said May. “The key thing is we and the GAA have been in discussion with them since December so there’s no 11th hour in this.
“This is the second year of a three-year programme and the crux of the matter is ourselves and the GAA left a meeting in April under the impression that we had reached an agreement that we were going to get a commitment that in 2019 we would get addresses from the players specifically for the purposes of intelligence to start with.
“There would be a year in which the GPA would be able to negotiate and discuss with the players but we needed a commitment for them to say it would happen.
"Ourselves and the GAA left that meeting under the impression it was going to happen but the GPA have since appeared to renege on that decision.
"It’s a little surprising to see this correspondence when we were under the impression that we had an agreement.
“Now, they did come back and tried to renegotiate again subsequent to that meeting and they were provided with an opportunity to come up with a wording that was suitable to them and that was the last conversation we would have had with them. We left it in their hands.”
Under the three-year €6.9m Government grants scheme, players for 2016 were entitled to between €519 to €1,066 depending on how far their team advanced in All-Ireland senior football and hurling championships.
Those figures were set to increase for last year’s competitions as the GPA was to receive an additional €400,000 to distribute on top of the €1.6m they picked up last year.
In 2019, the figure will reach €3m, €500,000 less than the original grants figure in 2007.
On Thursday, footballers and hurlers received a message from acting GPA chief Seamus Hickey.
The current Limerick hurler opened: “As currently stated in the Sport Ireland anti doping rules, only a limited number of athletes on a Registered Testing Pool are subject to home testing.
"Should the GPA agree to these new terms, all inter county players would be subject to home testing which, in our view is a wholly unreasonable demand on amateur athletes.
“We have in recent weeks consulted with you the player base through our Player Engagement Officers on this issue and the feedback from across the country has been overwhelmingly against at home testing.
"We have communicated this back to Sport Ireland and requested that they immediately release the 2017 grants and engage with us to agree a way to move the clean sport agenda forward —2 an issue that we are all passionate about.”
Hickey underlined the GPA’s support for clean sport, “as demonstrated by you, our members, full cooperation with blood testing in and out of competition since 2016.
"GPA members are among the most tested athletes in Sport Ireland’s National Testing Programme, yet to date only two positive tests have been recorded against inter-county players since testing began in 2001.
"To us 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 us on the issue.”
In 2017, there were 126 doping tests conducted with inter-county players.
Almost a third of them — 40 — took place in-competition, 67 were out-of-competition, while 19 were blood tests.
In comparison, there were 188 in athletics (18-85-85), 189 in cycling (27-81-81), 145 in rugby (90 out of competition and 55 blood tests) and 53 under the auspices of the FAI (32 in competition and 21 out of it).
Two years ago, there were 95 tests in inter-county GAA, 44 in-competition and 51 out of it.
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