A radical report has proposed the payment of an allowance to intercounty players and a root-and-branch overhaul of GAA administration including the abolition of central council, management committee and the provincial councils.
On the controversial issue of subscription television, it believes that the association should “retain the right to charge for a portion of its elite games as an income stream” but that this should be “discussed and reviewed regularly” and floats the idea that the association “retain its own media rights and establish its own broadcasting mediums”.
These are among the proposals from a committee established by former president Aogán Ó Fearghail.
They are contained in the findings of Towards 2034 – the 150th anniversary of the GAA, which has yet to be published but a copy of which has been seen by The Irish Times.
It is a thought-provoking document, which in the foreword sets out, “to generate the kind of widespread debate that is now required” and “outlines the salient issues and challenges facing the GAA and makes recommendations on the future direction of the organisation”.
Chaired by former INTO general secretary John Carr, the committee was appointed by Ó Fearghail in 2015 to try to envisage what the GAA should look like in 2034, 150 years after its foundation. It consulted widely before finalising its findings.
The committee reported in January, as it was required to, before the close of the outgoing president's term of office. Publication was perhaps held back pending the arrival of new director general Tom Ryan in the weeks ahead although the proposals will cause controversy as well as the hoped-for discussion.
Issues identified are: mission and vision of the GAA; stated core values of the GAA; the association’s governance; role of clubs, games and competitions; provision of GAA facilities for players and spectators; marketing of GAA activities; management of GAA finances; development of the GAA on the international stage.
The report sees the maintenance of core values as threatened by various developments.
“However, overcommercialisation, inconsistency in adhering to core values and impediments to good governance as well as relentless quests for victory, for glory or profit-making have the capacity to change the purpose, principles and ideals on which the GAA was founded.
“For example, concerns around the future direction of clubs, the continued amateur status of the GAA’s inter-county players, the welfare of all players, the levels of accountability and the capacity of the organisation’s members to feel that their voices are being heard are, this committee asserts, largely symptomatic of a weakening of an adherence to the values which underpin the GAA.”
In the report’s introduction these values are spelled out in a section on the association’s perceived mission.
“Its mission is as a community-based, volunteer organisation, promoting Gaelic Games, Gaelic culture and lifelong participation and engagement … The values identified with this mission include community identity, amateur status, inclusiveness, player welfare and teamwork.”
It accepts however that establishing precise agreed values and “gaining the support of the majority of its membership for their promotion, will constitute the central challenge for the GAA in the short term”.
The recommendations of the report are wide-ranging but the most radical relate to the financial compensation of players and reforming the association’s administrative structures.
Arguing that the traditional expenses system, based on travel costs, is “neither equitable nor fit-for-purpose,” the report goes on to recommend an allowance for inter-county players.
“By 2034 the GAA will have developed a model to recognise the time and effort contributed by senior inter-county players and their respective managers. This will facilitate effective budgeting where senior inter-county players and managers will retain their existing amateur status but have their value to the Association, and their enormous commitment to their sport, recognised by a defined and agreed allowance.”
At other levels below inter-county, however, the report is adamant that no such compensation should apply.
“At club level no payments will be made for playing, coaching, or team management.”
It also proposes that club players should have “a meaningful competitive pathway, including schedules of games” and that “excessive training regimes will be reduced, in tandem with improved games to training ratios”.
The central question posed in relation to the future governance of the GAA is outlined as follows:
“In simple terms, how will those charged with governing and managing the GAA still retain total control by 2034 as there are many examples of governing bodies of sport becoming irrelevant bystanders amid the rampant commercialisation of the very sports they are charged with overseeing?”
The structural reforms proposed envisage amalgamating central council and management committee into a board of 18 directors. This is to reflect what the T150 committee feels is the unnecessary duplication between the work the two existing bodies.
The new board would consist of “a mix of elected and appointed GAA members, independent non-executive personnel and GAA executive professionals or senior office holders (as non-voting members)”.
It would also have competence in respect of another controversial matter – extending beyond Croke Park the relaxation of the rule forbidding rugby and soccer being played at GAA venues.
The board “will establish criteria for the use of Association facilities by other sports organisations.”
Below national level there would also be changes in the abolition of provincial councils, a core structure in the GAA since the 19th century:
“Provincial Councils will be replaced by new administrative hubs called Regional Councils with regions to be decided by agreed criteria such as population size and geographical proximity.”