Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The GPA has cried wolf too often

The Gaelic Players' Association (GPA) is threatening anew to hold our national games to ransom. Disgruntled with the lack of progress over how to distribute the €5 million put aside by the previous Minister for Sport, John O'Donoghue, the GPA Chief Executive, Dessie Farrell, has once again hinted at strike action (see Irish Times, 5th September 2007, GPA suggest strike action on €5 million) if the issue isn't quickly resolved. The Greedy Players' Association is impatient. They want to get their hands on the money and they want it now.

This is crying wolf one time too many (see An Fear Rua, Are the GPA like the boy who cried wolf?). It's time that the vast majority of the GAA-the volunteers, players of all levels, and supporters-stand up  to these ultimatums and let the GPA know that strike action will not be tolerated.

Sure, the GPA has some legitimate grievances, and pressure from the organization has improved the GAA's attitude to players' well being. The appointment of Paraic Duffy, a player welfare officer, by the GAA, is an example of progress, a direct result of the influence the GPA has brought to bear on GAA headquarters. Improvements in other areas on the GPA's campaign list, such as improving the insurance/injury scheme for all club and county players and taking action to solve the fixture crisis, would also be welcome improvements to our games for all players and supporters.

However, the fundamental problem with the GPA, despite their protestations to the contrary, is that they are pushing the GAA toward 'pay-for-play'. Although they say they realize this is not feasible (see for example this interview with Dessie Farrell in DCU's alumni magazine), whether be design or direct consequence, their actions are driving this dangerous momentum. 

It's hard to trust the GPA on 'pay-for-play' when one of their objectives is a collective bargaining agreement with the GAA. Do they really consider their situation is akin to negotiations between a union and employers? Read their website and the statements they make. The speak about themselves as if they were exploited workers in a sweatshop. The fix they want is easy though. Compensation can relieve their "plight". Their newly designed logo also displays their avarice, as it's a blatant rip-off of the NBA (National Basketball Association) and MLB (Major League Baseball) logos, both professional sports organizations. 

It's only very recently that the GPA has created an Associate Membership scheme to "enable all GAA players, club members, supporters/fans and officials to become part of the GPA network". The aim is to strengthen the bond between club and county. Whey has it taken them eight years? At least they can take credit for realizing that such a bond exists. Once again however, the true intention of this scheme is not clear-cut. GPA Associate  members will not have voting rights and will have no influence on the organization. What's the interest so? Well, the associate membership fee of €50 allows access to a wide range of offers and services from the GPA, not to mention, a polo shirt with the GPA logo. While a good deal on car insurance may be welcome the GPA will no doubt, use their new "grassroots" members to further legitimate their organization and in future claim that the GPA represents a broad spectrum of the GAA, top to bottom, and not just inter-county players. Watch to see how they spin this in the future and look to leverage a broader membership base in negotiations with the GAA. Or maybe that's too cynical and Dessie wants a salary to match his lofty title.

The common good of the GAA is threatened by the GPA's self-interest in pursuit of compensation. The GPA is constantly reminding us of how much financially they loose through their commitment and dedication to playing Gaelic games. Their lack of concern with reports that county boards are digging themselves into a financial black hole of debt, brought about by the increased cost of player travel, catering and medical expenses that is stretching their budgets to the limit. According to the Irish Independent, Westmeath's debt has climbed to €641,000 (see Irish Independent, August 10th 2007, Westmeath football on the brink of financial crisis) and the county board is facing a financial crisis. If you think this is an isolated case of mismanaged finances, think again. In an interview with the Sunday Independent on 10 June 2007,  Tipperary Manager, Babs Keating, revealed that the Tipperary County Board had spent €870,000 training the inter-county teams in 2006, with no success to show for it, or indeed, to pay for it. As Babs said, in his time "the players togged out under a galvanised sheet with only a lantern to light them and after training you'd just have a cup of tea and a sandwich. But the present squad aren't left for anything". If the figures are like that now what would they be like of the players are receiving payment directly? 

At a time when the GAA is coming under such financial pressure, and facing serious competition for players and members from rugby and soccer, the focus of all within the organization should be on putting money back into the game: improving competitive structures for players at all levels and working to encourage more volunteers to help out with the running of clubs and the coaching of players. 

So it's time to say enough is enough to the self-interested GPA. As TV3's 6-part documentary series, "Grass Roots of the GAA", rightly points out, the volunteers of the organization who give their time-at no cost-to coach, administer, look after grounds, coordinate fundraising, drive youngsters to games, and wash the dirty jerseys, are the real heroes of the GAA. It's their work and passion behind the scenes that is fundamental to the success of the GAA. The spotlight has been on the inter-county players for too long. They are the tip of the iceberg. It's time to talk about the unsung heroes and time the GPA stopped crying wolf, their credibility is wearing thin.

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