Monday, December 3, 2007

Confusion over the grants agreement continues

Micky Harte wants us to learn from this sordid experience and "to try to understand each other's position".

If only it were that simple. There's been such a racket made about player welfare and the grants issue that we don't quite know how it became such a divisive issue within the organisation and came to the point of a strike. We're all confused about what has happened. We're just as confused about the deal that has been done.

Cliona Foley, in today's Irish Independent, criticizes the deal, blaming the GAA (nothing new in that) for not diverting its considerable resources towards the players. According to her analysis thanks should go to the government for cleaning up the GAA's mess. If the GAA had "increased player expenses, funded a centralised hardship fund (especially for long-term injured) and employed a 'players' ombudsman' in Croke Park" everything would have been hunky-dory. Such action would have averted this rigmarole and not taken funds from other, more needy, sports.

But, read the GPA's statement, surely you at least did that Cliona?, and the GPA sums up this sorry episode in the following way: "The GPA has campaigned vigorously for over five years for the introduction of state funding for inter-county GAA players in an effort to achieve parity of esteem for these players in the world of Irish sport." Parity of esteem, coequality, consistency - call it what you will - with other sports, that's what the GPA claim to have achieved through this deal. "The inequality that existed within Irish sport needed to be addressed." according to Kieran McGeeney. The GPA felt that the government discriminated against intercounty players with Charlie McCreevey's tax breaks, which they could not take advantage of because of their amateur status, so they felt it was up to the government to make that right. And, in their view, with this deal it has.

That doesn't correspond with Cliona's analysis. It's also not consistent with what has happened.

To get their money from the government the GPA needed the GAA's support. But, alas they didn't have it, the GAA didn't, and still doesn't, recognise the GPA. So to coerce the GAA, and use the power of the organisation as leverage against the government, the GPA kicked up a stink about player welfare and threatened to strike against the very organisation the players claim they love so dearly. On agreeing the deal with the government and the GAA, Dessie Farrell, the GPA Chief Executive, said "The GPA has brought the welfare of players to the top of the priority list and underpinning our drive to improve welfare has been the campaign for state funding".

It was all about player welfare. So, maybe Cliona iss right. But, and it's a big but, if one reads the terms and conditions of the landmark deal, condition number 8, clearly states:

"Player welfare is a separate issue for which the GAA takes full responsibility."

What is going on?

It seems the GPA has played both parties off and in Paul Galvin's words they've "nailed it". Not only have they played a Machiavellian hand - "the ends justifying the means" - but it seems they can continue legitimately lobbying Croke Park for improvements in player welfare.

It is also not clear why the GAA, i.e. Croke Park has acquiesced to this deal. The GAA originally agreed to the grant and then backtracked quickly when it was pointed out that if their fingerprints were found on the notes it would essentially be the same as "pay for play". Nicky Brennan declared "that our amateur status was paramount and non-negotiable, and we are satisfied now that this scheme does not impact on that." However, it seems that the Irish Sports Council (ISC) will not be directly involved in administering the GAA player grants. It will be Croke Park and county boards who will have to distribute the money. So what's the difference now?

It's hard to believe, as both sides would like you to, that deal struck makes all the commotion in the newspaper, on the radio and on the television over the past six months just been a hoo-ha about nothing.

The vague statements made by both sides don't address the fundamental question. How is amateurism protected through the establishment of the principle that inter-county players get renumerated because they are inter-county players? How, as Kieran McGeeney claims, does the grant system "copper-fasten" amateurism?

The grants scheme sets a precedent from which there is no turning back. The scheme will run on a three-year basis. So, now that the country is set to slip into deficit for the first time since 2002, are we going to go through this brinkmanship again in three years time if the money from the government is not forthcoming and the GAA has to pay up?

One thing is clear there has been no consultation with the membership of the GAA. The deal is being rushed through by Croke Park without a proper communication of the detail. There's no understanding of what's going on.

The Hoganstand informs readers that there will be a ’Grassroots’ meeting to discuss opposition to grants at the at the The Elk Entertainment Complex, Toome, Co. Antrim on Wednesday night, December 5. Former Armagh player Barry O’Hagan, who now works as Sports Development Officer for Derry City Council, will chair the meeting , while it’s understood that former GAA president Peter Quinn and former GAA Trustee Jimmy Treacy may also attend. They have a lot to discuss.

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