Thursday, April 17, 2008

GAA Clubs need a Voice

Some think that Of One Belief lost at Congress, others believe the GAA did. No matter.

No, wait! Before you depart, I'm not going to get into grants, or expenses, or whatever we should call it.

Of One Belief may be no more, but their brief existence taught us an important lesson. Although vilified and pillorised by some, with Martin Breheny leading the lynch mob, Mark Conway and Of One Belief were a critical counterbalance to the money-driven and elitist GPA in the "grants" "debate".

Without Of One Belief there was no other point of view than the GPA's. Croke Park and the GAA hierarchy were easily cowed by the GPA threats and did their utmost to whisper through an agreement with them. Nicky and the suits certainly made no effort to inform the GAA members of the details of the agreement and what the potential consequences were. wasn't until Of One Belief was formed that some semblance of a debate began and the pro's and con's of the agreement were properly aired. 

Now that the GPA have got what they wanted they have firmly established themselves as an important and acknowledged constituency within the GAA, the next step will be to recognise them as the inter-county (always important to make that distinction) players official union. Talks to do so are already under way. Not before its time, some would say, and that's a fair point. 

Official recognition will give the GPA a place at the top table and an even greater influence on the future direction of the GAA. Ordinary GAA members, in contrast, who make up the vast majority of the GAA's numbers, are increasingly disenfranchised from GAA decision-making. The GAA prides itself on being a democratic organisation, but the clubs are too far removed from decision-making at Congress and Central Council to have any real say. With the exception of the "important questions" like the Ban, Rule 42 etc., the clubs are not consulted on the running of the GAA and have little, if no, impact. The Club Forum is a good start, but it's not enough.

With the GPA's emergence as a force in GAA decision-making we can expect that the frequency of occasions when what's good for the GPA is not necessarily good for the rest of the association to increase. The problem is that there will be no voice for the majority of the GAA's members to put their point of view across. If the media wants a quote it needs someone to go to. Without a spokesperson or focal point for the majority of the GAA's members the GPA will once again have free reign in the national media for their bullyboy tactics.

But, the clubs don't have direct representation, despite desperately needing it. There's a whole range of problems, from fixtures (some go weeks and even months without matches during the summer freeze) to volunteering, which are neglected because Croke Park and the County Boards' give more weighting to the inter-county scene. 

The weight of representation is against the clubs. With so many diverse interests in the game the GAA cannot continue to speak for them all. That needs to change.

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