Croke Park has misgivings over Colm Cooper testimonial

Kerry legend’s fund-raising dinner raises a number of sensitive questions for the GAA

Colm Cooper’s testimonial dinner raises questions for the GAA. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

Colm Cooper’s testimonial dinner raises questions for the GAA. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

 

Although Colm Cooper’s testimonial dinner, details of which were announced on Tuesday, isn’t in breach of the GAA’s rule book, there are misgivings in Croke Park about the nature of the event.

Accordingly, the association will not be officially supporting it by taking a table on the evening. The corporate-sponsored dinner takes place in Dublin on October 27th.

Two charities – Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, and Kerry Cancer Support Group – will also benefit although the precise allocation of proceeds is unclear beyond organiser Mick Culhane’s statement that the charitable donations will be “significant and split equally” but at Cooper’s “discretion”.

As stated by the former Kerry footballer at this week’s media launch, he was anxious to get the GAA’s permission and met with director general Páraic Duffy on two occasions. Cooper continues to play club football and didn’t want to jeopardise his standing within the association.

In response to the request, it was decided to seek legal advice on the application of Rule 1.10, governing amateurism, and the GAA’s solicitors prepared an opinion, which has been seen by The Irish Times. Its view is that taking action under the rule against a player for organising a testimonial of this type would be unlikely to succeed.

Endorsements

Citing practices that are now permitted, such as endorsements and advertising, the opinion argues: “The notion of an amateur player and the amateur status of organisations has changed enormously since the association was founded. It is fair to say that the practices tolerated by the association have likewise gone through enormous change.

“If disciplinary action were to be brought against a member on foot of Rule 1.10, it would be enormously difficult to do so on the basis of the general principle of the association being an amateur association.

“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 [Disputes Resolution Authority] 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.”

Further to its argument, the opinion sets out the four established grounds on which actions are considered to have breached the rule.

They are: receiving payment “in cash or in kind in conjunction with the playing of Gaelic games;” contracting unapproved agents; exceeding rates of expenses as laid down by Central Council and, finally, participating in full-time training.

The first ground is clearly the one in question here and the legal advice distinguishes between payment “in connection” with the playing of the games – which it is suggested would rule out, as it did in the past, players and former players taking remunerated media roles – and “in conjunction” with playing, which it argues has to have a stronger link, a sense of “things occurring at the same point in time or space”.

Attitude

The DRA case taken by Mark Conway against the player grants scheme in 2008 is also cited as the only precedent in respect of amateurism, which it held to be essentially a prohibition on “payment in cash or in kind in conjunction with the playing of Gaelic Games” as well as “full-time training”.

That decision states, “entitlement to receive payment in cash or kind by the reimbursement or direct payment of expenses is subject, then, to two qualifying factors: the rates must be approved by Central Council and implicitly, the payments ought not to be sufficient to facilitate full-time training”.

There are consequently two issues for the GAA. The first is its attitude, regardless of whether the event is permissible, to the concept of testimonials and the prospect of their popping up on a widespread basis.

Cooper is highly regarded within the GAA and there is sensitivity about taking a stand on this matter while not wanting to personalise that stance.

Nonetheless, if testimonials became common occurrences there is no doubt that fundraising streams usually available to GAA clubs and causes would be affected. A further effect would be to add a material dimension to the perceived elitism of county players, already an issue in matters such as the fixtures crisis.

Secondly, the legal opinion makes clear that the rule on amateurism is vague and probably in need of revision.

This is a matter for the GAA’s Management Committee and Central Council and it will be interesting to keep an eye on whether they decide to step in and in future prohibit events of this nature.

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