GAA undermining its own disciplinary system by furtiveness

Seán Moran: Lack of transparency does a disservice to an effective structure

And so, the circus wouldn't leave town. It wasn't until Tuesday afternoon that word went around of Diarmuid Connolly's likely appearance at that night's Central Hearings Committee meeting – any outcome unknown at time of writing – but you still couldn't be sure.

When the weekend yarn that the player had accepted his proposed 12-week suspension for laying a hand on linesman Ciarán Branagan proved to be fake news, it was possible to detect a collective sigh around the world of Gaelic games: late nights, rule book under scrutiny and the harum-scarum world of trying to make misbehaviour lead to punishment in a routine manner.

Confusing the issue has been the sheer evasiveness of the communications procedures.

When the finer points of administrative law start to be argued it can trigger general disbelief amongst the GAA public, who saw an infraction take place on live television and are left to watch in bafflement, as the essence of the matter – protecting match officials – gets shoved to the back-burner to be replaced by a simmering pot of procedural squabbling.

Yet procedures have to be got right. Otherwise you don’t have a functioning system. In this case the correct course of action would have been a red card and a clear-cut 12 week suspension. Trying to filter the same punishment through retrospective citation makes it potentially tricky to enforce rules.

A week ago I pointed out that the way to enforce rules in this situation is simply to restore the CCCC’s powers to cite individuals whose infractions have been inadequately dealt with by match officials for whatever reason.

In this case it therefore wouldn’t make any difference that referee Seán Hurson hadn’t red-carded Connolly because the incident could still be processed by the committee.

It wouldn’t have to involve officials once the match report had been lodged and accepted subject to whatever process the committee decided to initiate.

There are other things that the GAA could do to improve the administration of discipline. As previously stated, the structures introduced 10 years ago have been very successful in streamlining rules enforcement and creating consistency.

Court challenges For example over the past three years (2014 to date and not counting certain minor infractions) the CCCC has proposed 467 penalties. More than three-quarters of these were actually accepted without further process. Of the 111 that opted to go to the Central Hearings Committee, 25 succeeded. Of the remaining 86, 15 took their case to the Central Appeals Committee and just two won their appeal.

Of the 13 who failed at CAC, two went to the Disputes Resolution Authority and one was successful.

The DRA has not just put a stop to court challenges but also ensured the rest of the system is more rigorous and by publishing its decisions, has made all of the GAA’s processes more transparent and easily grasped.

Having such a robust system should be a matter of satisfaction for the GAA but instead its impact is compromised by the chaotic manner of announcing the various outcomes.

Originally the CCCC would issue press releases to inform the public what penalties were being proposed. This was stopped almost immediately after it was argued that there was something prejudicial about revealing what suspensions had been proposed for players by the committee.

Clearly this was a misguided attempt to import into the rules of a sports organisation the sort of sensitivity prevalent in criminal law – and even in that context, if you’re charged with crime there is no bar to publication even though some people will be found not guilty.

Furthermore the relevant infractions will have in many cases been seen on television and there is a legitimate interest in the outcome of the disciplinary process.

Even with that restriction put in place, the CHC has always issued media releases, explaining what has happened at its hearings.

Yet this has become a bizarrely furtive process. Decisions used to be emailed to media outlets the morning after the hearing but this has fallen into partial abeyance. Some arrive; some don’t. Try and find CHC decisions on the GAA website. Again some go up; others don’t.

Match ban Recently the sensible step was taken of using Twitter to communicate decisions on the night they are taken. This was partly a reaction to the experience inside the CHC of parties to the hearing tweeting the outcome together with whatever spin suited them. Dublin’s Philly McMahon picked up a match ban in respect of the league final, played on 9th April. This was announced on Twitter after a hearing on 22nd May, more than seven weeks later. No email was issued the following morning. Even someone associated with the team said that they had been caught by surprise.

Kieran McGeeney, the high-profile Armagh manager, picked up a 12-week suspension, which emerged on a tide of rumour one evening with few even aware that he had been charged with the infraction.

There appears to have developed a culture of secrecy or evasiveness about what’s going on in respect of disciplinary hearings, as if there is something to hide.

This is not of benefit to any disciplinary process. Transparency cuts out speculation and improves understanding of what’s going on. Think for instance how often it’s heard that players looking for a hearing are ‘appealing’ – a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the CCCC.

Why shouldn’t the Gaelic games public be kept informed about every step in the process, including when hearings are to take place? At the moment large swathes of important details leak out at random, meaning that the GAA lose control of a narrative that should in this case definitively be theirs.

The disciplinary system functions well and is fair. Why not let it stand on its merits?