Wednesday, February 27, 2008

No to AFL Compensation for GAA recruitment

While no shock, this morning's headline in the Irish Independent "GAA clubs in line for compensation over AFL recruitment", is still disturbing. What's more alarming is Nicky Brennan's apparent willingness to explore this possibility.

Compensation for what? The young GAA players that the AFL are recruiting are members of the GAA. Look it up Nicky. Membership means participation by choice. The clubs don't own these players. The counties don't own these players. The GAA doesn't own these players. They are playing GAA because they want to. It's a choice. They sign up, they pay a membership subscription (which I might add is very good value when compared to lots of other sports memberships) to play.

While it is hard to stomach, there is not a lot that can be done. Great GAA players like Setanta O hAilpin, Colm Begley and Martin Clarke, who prefer to go to Australia to become professional athletes in a different code, should be free to leave with no "benefits" in return, if they choose to do so. How many young players who play soccer or rugby and Gaelic games have given up Gaelic football or hurling to try to play either of those codes? 

As Martin Breheny points out "Of far more concern to the GAA should be the drop off in the number of youngsters playing the games once they pass minor level". I'd go further. What about making GAA more appealing to a broader audience by cutting out the frequent violence in the game and creating a culture where there is more respect for the referee and for one's opponents? How many young people give up or, indeed, never take up, Gaelic games because of the perceived lack of respect for rules and because of the violence that frequents even underage games?

And what about the players that give up before they reach minor level because they never got a fair chance to play the game? How many kids depart disgruntled because certain mentors choose to ignore their lesser talents, which may develop at a later age but are never given the chance to do so, in pursuit of short-term success. A much sought after U-14 Division III title, for example. It's more widespread than you think. Shouldn't that be more of a concern?

The similarities between Gaelic football and Aussie rules and the age at which these players are recruited, just as they are appearing on the inter-county scene, makes their decision all the harder for the GAA to take. But, it is their decision. The GAA has no 'rights' over a player, unlike in soccer. UEFA have rules for compensating clubs in Europe for each transfer for any player up to the age of 23. That's because players are considered "assets" in a purely financial sense and UEFA wants clubs to have the necessary financial and sporting incentives to invest in training and educating young players. Introducing similar rules in GAA and accepting compensation for players from the AFL would be another huge step towards professionalisation. If the GAA really wants itself to be considered primarily a "sporting and cultural" organisation then the idea of compensation should be dismissed immediately and categorically. 

And that silly International Rules circus should be rejected along with it. 

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