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GAA is not raising a toast to testimonial dinners

Association moves to restrict testimonials, though nothing in rulebook prohibits them

Former Kerry footballer Colm Cooper held his testimonial dinner last Friday, attended by sporting celebrities, but the GAA has said it would not support the event. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

The GAA is proceeding with moves to restrict testimonial dinners. Former Kerry footballer Colm Cooper held his contentious event, which has divided opinion within the association, last Friday in Dublin, attended by an array of celebrities from various sports.

In the weeks since the testimonial, which was to raise funds for Cooper, his local GAA club and county board and two designated charities, Kerry Cancer Support Group and Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, was first announced, the GAA has made it clear that it would not be supporting the event.

It has also been decided that the association’s director of finance Tom Ryan will review the current situation, which director general Páraic Duffy has publicly acknowledged is not regulated with sufficient clarity to prevent testimonials taking place.

Legal opinion was initially sought and it advised: “The notion of an amateur association is so general and so amenable to a multitude of interpretations that it is highly unlikely that a disciplinary committee or the DRA would be satisfied to rely upon the general nature of the first sentence of Rule 1.10.

“Any such proceedings could only be contemplated in circumstances where there was a clear violation of a prohibition set out in Rule 1.10.”

No impediment

The opinion went on to argue that testimonials did not breach any of the prohibitions on pay-for-play, appointing an unauthorised agent, receiving greater expenses rates than allowed by Central Council, and full-time training.

Accordingly, Cooper was advised that there was no impediment to his plans in the rulebook although, in two meetings with Duffy, the GAA’s misgivings were also made clear.

Speaking to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1, Duffy – who had announced that he will be retiring next March – outlined his concerns:

“If you do an autobiography or punditry, you’re not taking funds that could go to the GAA. If you’re holding a major dinner you’re going to the same people to support the dinner or testimonial as you would to support a club event. That’s the big concern I would have – plus the fact that it is against the ethos of the GAA to run a dinner where the individual benefits. We don’t do that.”

The problem for the GAA may turn out to be an essential powerlessness to make any new regulatory framework effective

Asked could the GAA do anything to prevent similar occurrences, he said:

“Under our current rules, no. Do we need to look at it? Yes. It’s tricky because our current rules don’t allow us to deal with it but I think we need to look at the rules. We are going to look at this. It will involve maybe taking legal advice or deciding ourselves how we want to handle it. We are looking at it and will look at it.”

Tighter rules

Ryan will be looking at the general question of testimonials and how the GAA would be best served in dealing with them. Once the general principles are agreed, the next step will be to draft tighter rules to give effect to this.

The problem for the GAA may turn out to be an essential powerlessness to make any new regulatory framework effective. Cooper was anxious to secure the approval of Croke Park and, failing that, an assurance that he wouldn’t be liable to suspension for going ahead with his plans.

That was because he is still an active club player and is currently helping Dr Crokes in the defence of their Munster and All-Ireland titles. In the future that anxiety may not be a factor.

If a former player decided in future to avail of the Cooper precedent, the only sanction would be a suspension from membership and that, when weighed in the balance against the proceeds of a fundraiser, might not be an adequate deterrent.