Sunday, 19 June 2011

Is the GAA still an amateur sport?

The Association is an Amateur Association... No player, team, official or member shall accept payment in cash or in kind or other material reward in connection with GAA membership...’ From the mouth of the GAA rule book, the sport is defined as amateur. How amateur it is today? The GAA central council has come under increasing amounts of pressure to change the status of the sport, with what has once been called ‘gifts’ and ‘donations’ could now be regarded as ‘eligible expenses’.

The simple fact of the matter today is both players and managers alike receive a cheque at the start of each month. Thus can we conclude we are watching a semi professional sport? Maybe not, but the question of the GAA being a sham amateur organisation is a serious argument. The vast amount of money being poured into the GAA has taken away from the heart and soul of what it once was.
How many of the great inter-county players have stated in match programmes and newspaper articles that when growing up they dreamed of representing their county at the highest level? The honour and prestige of playing for your county may not be what it once was, when the sacrifice of your free time and weekends was worth it when you ran out to represent your county. Today's players are well rewarded for their efforts, and their personal costs of playing are being covered.
When GAA delegates first voted when to accept funding from the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, it was to recognise the contribution of senior inter-county GAA players. Upcoming Waterford hurler Seamus Hannon (24) believes that the funding does in no way affect the amateur status of GAA, as players must sacrifice much in order to show such high commitment. “The expenses we receive are often minimal when you factor in work hours missed, time away from family, and lack of social life. So we miss out on a lot in order to play,” he says.

But does Hannon believe the chance to represent your county and run out on the field in front of tens of thousands as being a sufficient reward? Is it possible in this day and age to play totally as an amateur? “Well back in the old days, players trained without expenses. Times were different I know…but still. Nowadays I don’t think you could because it’s too much sacrifice without some sort of financial aid to compensate for work missed. If players didn’t get these expenses they would be losing money,” he adds.
On the subject of targeted funding, directed to the more successful County team, be it hurling or football, Hannon admits that it does form an elitist aspect to the game; when one code get more in term of expenses than the other. Waterford GAA is a prime example of this. Standing at roughly 60 cent per mile travelled, a County hurler receives more than a County footballer for fuel expenses. The reason? Hurling is more successful in Waterford, thus bringing in more capital in terms of sponsorship. ‘I do think it’s unfair that more successful teams get more money. Just because you don’t win doesn’t mean you don’t put in a huge commitment. Things like that create bitterness and I think expenses should be capped across the board.’
The payment of GAA players hints at the growth of elitism in the sport, far from what the GAA was once all about. Inter-county players are being favoured by GAA officials because of the capital they bring in. Sponsorship, TV coverage and jersey sales bring millions into the GAA, and instead of helping to improve club facilities and championships, or lowering match prices, Croke Park is increasing the divide between club and county.
Underage players, such as minors, who have the honour of wearing their county colours at such a young age, are well paid for their services. One such minor hurler, David Cahillane (19), who represented his native Waterford last year, believes payment “takes away from the amateur nature of GAA”. Cahillane admitted making a healthy profit from the team, receiving 50 cent per mile travelled to and from training, “I made up to 100 euro each month for petrol money, and there was always some left over. If county players are committed they shouldn’t necessarily want expenses,” he says. Want it or not, the system is definitely being over-used. When you take into consideration that a county minor team has up to 35 players training and receiving expenses, it costs at least €3,500 a month to play, and according to this player, “It’s a bit much.”

The GAA is a way of life in Ireland; it fills stadiums, column inches, and many fine Sunday afternoons. The fact is that without the players, the GAA wouldn’t exist. Inter-county players and teams receive the most attention from the public, and so, without the expenses they receive, maybe the GAA wouldn’t be what it is today. While being paid each month, the players do not live off this money. They are part time athletes and juggle a day job with nationwide renown. This has always been the most fascinating aspect of the GAA. On a weekday they might be your neighbour, your work college or simply your friend, but when the weekend rolls along; they are your heroes and your idols. Expenses can never change that fact.

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