GPA critical of delay in expenses payments to players

Players’ body CEO Dessie Farrell concerned at recent recurrence of a formerly thorny issue

The Gaelic Players Association is concerned by a recent increase in difficulties for players in claiming expenses.

According to CEO Dessie Farrell, the matter is under discussion between the GPA and the GAA at national level with Croke Park offering to provide short-term bridging loans for counties experiencing cash flow problems.

Farrell made the comments when discussing the GPA’s recently established Player Safety and Welfare group, emphasising the players’ union’s unhappiness that an issue, which appeared to have been resolved 15 years ago, had now returned.

“We’re undertaking an audit to get a full picture,” he said.

“But there are definitely situations where players have been kept waiting for their expenses, covering everything from mileage to medical costs, for lengthy periods. We’ve flagged this issue with Croke Park and are discussing streamlining payments. Some of it is down to cash flow and some to basic inefficiencies but these are issues we could definitely be doing much better on.

“Croke Park have been working with us and know that this is a situation that shouldn’t be tolerated and are offering to help with cash flow for those counties who are encountering those problems but in this day and age it’s not acceptable that players go months and months without being reimbursed.

“It’s interesting to note that back in the day when the GPA was formed this was a big issue – expenses and payment of expenses and level of expenses – and it would have seemed to have been sorted out over those initial years, as there was a general understanding that this wasn’t acceptable but it looks to have raised its head again in the last 18 months.

"We've conducted a number of regional meetings in the last couple of months; earlier in the year we had several student workshops where the issue was highlighted. There were problems. Again some counties are excellent and very professional in how they do their business but not all." The Player Safety and Welfare group was appointed to address problems that have been identified as creating pressure on inter-county players and will dovetail with Croke Park's Medical Scientific and Welfare Committee.

At last week’s launch, the GPA emphasised two areas of concern: doping and problem gambling.

To date just one Gaelic games player, Monaghan's Thomas Connolly, has been suspended for testing positive but according to Farrell the likelihood is that this will become a problem in the future.

“We’d be naïve not to realise that there is out there a culture in sport – a gym-based, body building culture where individuals are taking substances to develop themselves physically and many athletes are training in the same gyms alongside individuals, who may well be taking these substances.

“We’d be naïve to think that in these environments there aren’t discussions about techniques, approaches, supplement use and performance enhancing drugs like steroids. We’d also be naïve to think that issues won’t develop for our athletes in the future. We’re not trying to scare-monger or raise alarms but we are saying we need to be careful, vigilant and have a mature conversation about this and if any players want to talk they should reach out.”

The GPA has for a number of years been concerned about the prevalence of gambling addiction within the membership and Farrell said that research data indicates that the problem is comparable with statistics from other sports.

“Gambling has become a major issue in society of late. We’ve been on the record, highlighting how it’s become a significant problem for many of our players. There’s research out there that suggests that for some reason young men who are elite level athletes are three times more likely to encounter gambling problems than those in the rest of the population. We’re seeing that manifested in our own membership. “In other sports where that has arisen it has led to integrity issues where there has been gambling, which have compromised the sport never mind the individual.”

Although gambling in professional sports can be seen as the result of young men with too much spare time and on vast wages, according to Farrell elite footballers and hurlers are prey to similar lifestyle pressures regardless of the GAA’s amateur status.

“It arises in some cases because players aren’t paid but are at the same time under significant financial pressure. They believe they’ve a fair insight into the game and are in a pace of advantage, which is potentially an avenue to make money.

“Gambling is now so widely accessible whereas before you had to leave college or leave work to go to the bookies. Technology has extended that involvement to anybody that wants and the marketing and promotion around gambling is now relentless between TV advertising and advertising in the stadium. It’s everywhere and that has an impact particularly for our membership because that’s an environment they frequent . . .

“For a long period of the season the players can’t place himself in the same social environment as his friends or family. They are socially excluded in many ways because of the nature of the games. They have to lead a different lifestyle so they’re not out late at night with friends so there is that sense gambling is filling a void and they’re interested in sports anyway and this provides an adrenalin rush.” Despite these environmental pressures, Farrell said that he couldn’t see any way in which the demands on players might be reduced in the future.

“Many do thankfully manage to continue to enjoy the games at this level and are happy to make that lifestyle choice but you are never going to be able to turn the clock back.

“For those individuals who think that on the Saturday night before a big game that players should be entitled to go out and have a few pints and a pizza that day is gone and isn’t returning.”