Thursday, November 1, 2007

Why you should oppose the GAA strike - Reason No. 2

The amateur ethic of the GAA doubles as a community ethic. Compensation to players will create a divide between the elite and the grassroots. The most fundamental unit of GAA competition is the club side. The local roots feed up to the counties, creating a unity of purpose that makes the association great. The people that make the tea and sandwiches, cut the grass, line the pitch and coach the kids on a Saturday morning have a direct connection to the players that play in Croke Park in front of 80,000 in an All-Ireland. They're one and the same. That's where the strength of the Association lies. Why ruin it?

Compensation to players would break the "virtuous circle" upon which the GAA is built. What do I mean by virtuous circle? Well, think about the cycle of development in the GAA. Coaches, volunteers and supporters play and support their teams at club level. The success of the clubs and the development of talent is taken to the next level by the county teams, where the best players from clubs are invited to display their talents on a bigger stage. The people from the clubs who facilitated their development are happy to pay their hard earned money to attend these games because they played a part in making the players, supporting them and putting in place the stadia. There's a direct link, whether or not you come from the same club as the "Gooch" or any other inter-county player, you played a part in their development. Most importantly, you know that the money you pay to see the inter-county games will be re-invested in all levels of the game, thereby allowing the cycle of development to start anew. It's an unbroken circle. Compensation for players will break the cycle. Compensation for players will mean that the money generated at the top will no longer find its way back to the bottom.

Look what has happened with since rugby turned professional in Ireland. Supposedly, it has produced a "golden generation" of players making the best international team ever, not to mention successful provincial sides, Leinster and Munster. Scrape this veneer (as the performance at the Rugby World Cup demonstrated) and what has professionalism done for the game in Ireland? As Tom McGurk (Rugby pays price of professionalism) writes, rugby in Ireland is now in a terrible state. "The paucity of playing members and the incessant cost demands has hit the clubs hard in the last decade. Many of Ireland's once most famous rugby clubs are a mere shadow of their former selves. Still largely surviving on the goodwill of the golden oldies, many that once put our five or six junior 15s out on a Saturday, can now barely scrape two or three teams together."

Look at the gap between the players and the rest of the community in soccer. Take the Premier League for example. The Premier League works very hard through the Football Foundation to ensure that they are seen to be part of the community and that everyone is benefitting from the team. Why do they do this? Because the natural link between the Premier League's and the communities where they are based has been broken. The money and the benefits of the big clubs don't find their way down to the lower level of the game to the people who support the clubs. It has to be artificially created through a form of corporate social responsibility.

Professional sport creates a dynamic whereby most of the money generated goes toward the professional code of the game which caters for less than 1% of the players. We do not want a situation where a significant and ever-increasing proportion of GAA income goes not to grass roots, clubs, underage support and development, but to pay players. The GAA supports the game at all levels.

There's a difference between the GAA and the sports entertainment business. It's not a business. It's not set up as a business. That's what distinguishes it from other sports. Let's fight to keep it that way.