Joanne O’Riordan: Gaelic games merger aims to make everyone equal and everyone better off

Lessons learned from other sports show how Gaelic games could benefit from a single governing body for men and women

It wasn’t too long ago that we were all excited about the appointment of Mary McAleese as head of the steering committee to drive the amalgamation process of the Camogie Association, the GAA and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, with the future integrated body being based on the principle of equality. This week a policy brief by three academics – launched by Dr Katie Liston, Dr Aoife Lane and Tyrone footballer and PhD student Conor Meyler – set out proposals for how this may be achieved, drawing on lessons learned from examples such as Golf Ireland and assorted national and international bodies.

Meyler is an ideal contributor to the process, as his academic research focuses on leadership gaps between men and women. Nothing fills leadership gaps like an integration process similar to what’s been done in Golf Ireland, whose leading committees must comprise at least 30 per cent women and 30 per cent men.

“We’re trying to change attitudes and behaviours towards women in sport in leadership positions,” says Meyler. "We see the discrepancy in the numbers in terms of representation. We’re trying to make people more aware and better able to understand those discrepancies. I think the biggest thing is you’re trying to impact the people in decision-making positions, but also people who are on the ground because they have a voice and will have thoughts as to what they want from the association or their organisation. Ultimately, that’s what our games are built on. It is listening to lay people working within the club, to get a better understanding of their voices, and then their thoughts and their opinions will help shape the whole thing.”

The policy brief covers three phases – pre-merger, transition and post-merger – and makes recommendations in relation to equality, leadership, strategy, communication and trust. Meyler says it is important to take as much time as is needed to ensure all involved feel heard.


“With the pre-merger and transition, it didn’t take that much time, but the post-merger will take time, especially if we want an association that’s underpinned by equality. That was an eye-opener for us, and we realised we probably can’t put a time frame on it as much as we would like. But from the post-merger point of view, we learned we have to have principles to be guided by, equality being the main one.

“But also other principles – such as leadership –,that are transformational. We’ve got our strategic thinking and communication; we need communication that is clear and transparent from both bottom up and from the top down. We have our third [recommendation] which is to prioritise female representation. This is to ensure that women have a voice and are in a position where they can impact decision-making from the get-go. The next one wais to develop a funding model. That is based on helping to close the gap in terms of investment per player, between a man and a woman, it’s not necessarily directly given equal funding.”

To complete a successful merger, Meyler suggests setting up a new organisation, in much the same way as male and female representatives created Golf Ireland.

“What the research has really shown is that for an association to be underpinned by equality, and probably to function better, it’s a case of not necessarily a merger and integration; it was actually the formation of a new organisation. I think a big lesson we learned from that was being able to use and overcome the history and tradition that organisations had before and take all the good things but also be able to say ‘if we were to rip up the script and start all over again, what would it look like?”

That’s the big question on everyone’s lips – what would this whole thing look like?

Meyler says it is key to understand that a merger need not mean one group benfitting at the expense of others; on the contrary, it can prove to be a win-win for all involved.

“I think that the new organisation would actually attract more sponsors, rights and people. So it’s not a case of splitting the pie; the pie becomes bigger.”

The US Soccer Federation’s equal pay ruling, for example, was not simply about women taking from the men’s earnings; it also assessed strategies and ideas that were previously only options for women could be beneficial in the men’s collective bargaining agreement, such as fertility, healthcare and childcare.

Discussing and resolving such matters take time and effort, and sporting politics tends to drag things out, especially when money is involved.

On Saturday, during Tyrone’s victory over Armagh, Meyler celebrated 100 appearances for Tyrone. He hopes to make many more and that, in the near future, men and women intercounty stars will perform under the aegis of a single governing body.

“I would like to think that it will be soon, based on what we’ve seen in other sports in other countries and even closer to home with golf. Their process took five-six years before they had the formation of Golf Ireland, so it will take time, but I do think it’s very much doable. Hopefully, if the body keeps going, I’ll still be playing too!”