GAA to be called before Oireachtas Sports Committee ahead of new Sky deal

Outrage as three weekend championship hurling matches behind TV paywall

The Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Final between Kilkenny and Wexford at the weekend was one of the matches behind a paywall on television. Photograph: Tommy Dickson / Inpho

The Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Final between Kilkenny and Wexford at the weekend was one of the matches behind a paywall on television. Photograph: Tommy Dickson / Inpho

 

The GAA is to be called before the Oireachtas Sports Committee ahead of renegotiation of its Sky Sports contract for exclusive coverage of certain matches, following renewed demands for free to air broadcasting of all games.

Fianna Fáil Senator Ollie Crowe said the deal done seven years ago, and extended two years later with the subscription-based broadcaster “was wrong in 2014; it remains wrong today”.

Raising the issue in the Seanad, the Galway Senator said that at the weekend three significant championship hurling games - Galway v Dublin, Kilkenny v Wexford, and Limerick v Cork - were broadcast exclusively on Sky Sports.

The broadcaster has exclusive rights to 14 championship hurling and football matches.

“The GAA was founded with the stated goal of promoting Irish culture but I fail to see how they’re doing that by depriving millions across the country of watching our national games,” Mr Crowe said.

“I’m aware of so many people who have given countless hours to their clubs, have dedicated so much to the GAA and have missed out on watching their county in recent years because they cannot afford Sky or are because they are in a hospital or nursing home where Sky is not available.”

He added that “I spoke to a man involved in our GAA club for over 60 years who could only listen to Galway versus Dublin on the radio”.

The GAA “belongs to the Irish people including the minority who have no interest in it, given the amounts of taxpayer funds which have always gone to the GAA far exceeding any other sport.

He stressed that he fully supports the funding and believed in the good work the GAA does.

Mr Crowe said he had written to chairwoman of the Oireachtas Sports committee Niamh Smyth asking her to invite GAA officials before the committee to discuss the matter “and to right the wrong and to bring the games back to our people”.

Government Seanad leader Regina Doherty said the issue is something “that really aggravates most people in the country” that “our national games should be free to air for all of us to enjoy”.

“We shouldn’t have to listen on the wireless or in the car to some of the most exciting sports,” Ms Doherty said.

Fianna Fáil Meath Senator Shane Cassells said the committee should write to all sporting organisations because “it’s not fair that the GAA should be singled out”.

Mr Cassells pointed out that organisations such as the FAI “have commercial deals with Sky as well”.

Ms Doherty said she would write to the Minister for Sport “on all our behalf”. The Fine Gael Senator said she welcomed that the chair of the Oireachtas Sports Committee will bring in the GAA prior to them negotiating any new deal for the next number of years.

“I don’t think it’s up to us to tell anybody what to do but I think it would be instructive for us just us to say how much the national sport, indeed all sports, should be enjoyed by everybody.”