GAA fought hard battle to maintain balance throughout 2014

Finding compromise between need for revenue and concerns of members is difficult

GAA president Liam O’Neill and director general Páraic Duffy at the launch of the director general’s annual report in Croke Park, Dublin. Photograph: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

GAA president Liam O’Neill and director general Páraic Duffy at the launch of the director general’s annual report in Croke Park, Dublin. Photograph: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

 

Speaking at the launch of his annual report, GAA director general Páraic Duffy answered a question about whether he felt the association was held answerable to different standards than other comparable bodies.

Are there other sports that attract the same intensity of criticism for alcohol sponsorship or provoke similar amounts of well-ventilated outrage when shifting matches onto subscription television?

His response was halfway between uncertainty and resignation.

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to go into that question. In terms of the issues that I mentioned, in fairness on the Sky thing, there was a huge national debate. That was a justifiable debate. I understand that. I understand the wider consequences. On the Garth Brooks one and on the GAA, maybe sometimes we’re held up differently but that’s part of it. That’s life.”

In the past the question of whether there was a problem with the image of Croke Park, as the central administration of the organisation, rather than as the stadium for the biggest fixtures, has arisen. In other words is there a “disconnect” between the membership and its national administration?

Bureaucracy

This was addressed six years ago by a communications strategy outlined and included in the GAA’s Strategic Vision and Action Plan 2009-2015.

Yesterday Duffy firmly rejected any idea that there was a continuing sense of alienation between members and the national administration, saying: “Every day I see the amount of ‘connect’ with county officials and people working really hard to engage at every level.”

Yet a number of the biggest issues in this year’s report arose from addressing that characterisation of Croke Park as being too concerned with making money at the expense of its core values.

These all came together last year in a contentious bundle that included controversies over the deal with Sky Sports, the Garth Brooks concerts that never happened and the American football match that did and pushed an All-Ireland semi-final replay out of Dublin and down to Limerick.

Duffy made his case on each of those issues forcefully and with the benefit of a cooling-off period since they erupted in 2014; in the case of the Brooks fiasco he specifically alluded to having the advantage of the relative calm of hindsight.

It’s hard to argue with the GAA on any of these matters now. The service to overseas supporters was radically improved and if much of the global reach of that came from GAAGO, the joint streaming venture with RTÉ, Duffy was quick to point out that the service in Britain, although now more expensive, was superior in terms of quality and convenience as well as giving a higher profile to Gaelic games.

The cancellation of the Brooks concerts was only tangentially concerned with the GAA membership but the association received a significant portion of the blame.

Were the roles reversed, however, and the GAA refused at short notice to agree to host something for which they had expressed support in principle months previously, I think we all have a good idea who’d be to blame for that.

The fixing of the Kerry-Mayo replay for Limerick stirred a number of hornets’ nests: again the prioritising of a commercial venture over members’ interests, favouring Dublin over the other two counties and demeaning the fixture by taking it out of Croke Park.

Although Duffy expresses regret over the matter, he defends the allocation of All-Ireland semi-final replays to venues outside of Dublin wherever appropriate. That perfectly valid view was somewhat lost in the recriminations over the above issues.

Funding

Duffy gets to the heart of the matter at the end of the report.

“Due to this special character, the association’s approach to the resolution of problems or to the assessment of opportunities cannot be the same as another big organisation that is purely commercial and that has different mechanisms at its disposal to deal with issues. A commercial organisation, for example, does not have to worry about tradition when confronted by a major problem.

“The GAA, however, must take account of tradition in making policy decisions. Commentators sometimes criticise the association for being slow to make decisions, but it is right that it moves slowly on certain occasions – this is both the effect of our democratic structures and decision-making, but also of our awareness that the traditions and values embodied in the GAA must be carefully considered in any major change of policy.

“For many of our members and supporters, the GAA represents strong and personal meanings; one cannot treat these lightly when considering major policy or rule changes.”

Maintaining that balance isn’t easy and there’s a sense it’s getting harder. The GAA could do without any more shocks to the system in 2015. smoran@irishtimes.com

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