Ballymun's story a reflection of a wider truth for GAA in Dublin
There’s nothing unusual about Ballymun in this respect. The GAA in Dublin is overwhelmingly middle class.
In an interview with this newspaper on the occasion of the GAA’s 125th anniversary, director general Páraic Duffy acknowledged as much.
“We have probably become a more middle-class game in Dublin. To be fair the Dublin County Board recognise that. But it is a major challenge because you have to commit so many resources and send in so many volunteers. The GAA asks so much of its clubs that it probably puts people off.
“In working-class Dublin soccer is by far the biggest sport. We have some very good clubs in working-class areas but overall participation and interest in our games is very, very low. In vast tracts of urban Ireland there is very little interest in our affairs. That’s the reality.”
That reality is yet another example of the pernicious effects of social inequality. Sport can play a hugely important role in maintaining children’s health by keeping them fit and combating the increasingly sedentary nature of modern pastimes as well as the emerging obesity crisis caused by poor diet and lack of exercise.
It’s a box that most – but not necessarily exclusively – middle-class parents will automatically tick.
Seven years ago in one of the ESRI’s reports on sport (the one the GAA liked because it illustrated the high levels of volunteerism within the association) the point was made starkly.
In The Social and Economic Value of Sport, it states: “A market system is not concerned with promoting access to sport on the basis of fairness. One justification for government intervention is to ensure that access to sport is not overly constrained by lack of resources or other forms of socio-economic disadvantage.”
“Secondly there is a similar bias within organised sport in favour of the middle classes. This can be seen in the fact that higher professional and managerial positions lead the way in an analysis of volunteers’ occupations.”
In his recent speech in New York, GAA president Liam O’Neill outlined the ambitious target of extending the overseas reach of the association so that the numbers playing the games internationally would outgrow the domestic playing base.
It was an interesting and dramatic vision for the future but it shouldn’t obscure the fact that there’s still room for growth at home, albeit in areas which traditionally haven’t been receptive.
It would be an irony were the GAA to find it easier to promote the games in Shanghai than in deprived parts of Dublin.