Critics of GPA awards scheme missing the bigger picture
The association’s relative wealth creates resentment amongst athletes when they see scarce sports funding going to footballers and hurlers. This is easy to understand but is it reasonable?
The resentment is based on the comparative unworthiness of Gaelic games because of its indigenous nature and lack of international standards as well as a bemusement that the games are so popular whereas it’s hard to interest people in someone doing well in a road race in Latvia regardless of its quality.
It has also been suggested that the GAA has effectively sabotaged Ireland’s athletics strength by siphoning off large numbers of the able-bodied.
The essence of these arguments is easy to debunk. More temperate responses to Kiernan pointed out that there’s more to Gaelic games preparation than sheer physical fitness. It must equip players to perform technical skills at speed and under intense physical pressure.
But it’s the wider argument – why are so many people enthralled by the GAA? – that’s more interesting. Should the maintenance of one of the world’s great indigenous sports organisations not be a matter for celebration? Is achievement simply measured by the accumulation of medals and international competition?
There’s no doubt national pride is uniquely tapped by international achievement. The recent Olympics demonstrated as much with the excitement triggered by the boxers and Katie Taylor in particular; the soccer team in its pomp had the same impact. Nonetheless there’s more to sport than the rare, if wonderful, incidents of international success.
GAA clubs strengthen and build communities even when there’s no success. They provide recreational outlets for all sorts of kids and their wildly varying skill levels. They say to children that they belong regardless of their ability and that doing the best you can and collective effort are valuable to your team and community.
The GPA had been pursuing these grants for years before they came into operation. They were a response to the tax breaks for professional sports people introduced in the 2002 Finance Act.
They were also separately funded when introduced; in other words it’s not certain that the €900,000 (down from the original €3,500,000) involved would even stay in the Irish Sports Council’s coffers if the scheme were to be discontinued.
Paltry as they may now be, the grants are simply a valued recognition of players who by putting on public display their talents, strengthen a sense of belonging all around the country and generate the funding for a huge association of volunteers, who in turn enrich countless local communities.