Second Opinion: GAA not the last bastion of Corinthian ideals

We owe it to our national sporting organisation to be aware of its shortcomings

Hurling: The sport I hear myself describing in reply sounds less like an outdoor pursuit and more like a yogic journey toward self-discovery.

Hurling: The sport I hear myself describing in reply sounds less like an outdoor pursuit and more like a yogic journey toward self-discovery.

 

We came, we saw, we flipped the bird to some judges and got put in jail. Put it in the books – we really did outdo ourselves this Olympics. Our cynicism toward the movement which likes to refer to itself as “the Olympic family” in the midst of this rather calamitous fortnight (the O’Donovan brothers and Annalise Murphy notwithstanding) is not shared across the water however.

In Great Britain, they’re ecstatic. And they’re asking questions. Why can’t all sport be like this? There have been quite a few articles in the British press in recent days bemoaning the fact that the most celebrated, and most-lavishly paid, athletes currently plying their trade on these islands (Premier League footballers) don’t carry themselves with the dignity, humility and respect of the nation’s new heroes – the gilded men and women of Team GB.

Previous holders of the “flavour of the month” award, the England rugby team which won the 2003 World Cup, prompted similar questions – what bravery, what humility, what respect for the referee. Isn’t this what sport should look like?

It appears the Premier League exists in part to act as a piñata for every other sport that manages to distract people for a few minutes every couple of years from its regular football-heavy diet, it’s only consolation for this inconvenience being untold riches for everyone involved.

Odd timing

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Notwithstanding the rather odd timing of writing an article about the purity and honesty of the Olympic Games at the end of a fortnight the inhabitants of Rio will be repaying for the rest of their lives, it’s never a good idea to assign an entire set of beliefs to a group of people as vast as a sporting organisation.

If the original pieces were sadly all too predictable, it similarly surprised no-one to read a series of rebuttal articles outlining the great things that some Premier League footballers have done for their local communities, while telling some of the darker tales from Rio and from past Olympic games. It’s pathetic really, because we all know there are bad eggs everywhere… everywhere, except for the GAA, of course.

Our amateur status protects us from the demon dollar, our players are rough-hewn men of the soil who’ll be repairing your car or plucking your turkey on Monday morning, and our volunteer coaches and administrators are Dalai Lamas of the boardroom, men for whom the idea of jealously holding onto power holds no attraction whatsoever. This is the ‘Gael’ of legend.

My initial reaction, having read a piece by Matthew Syed in the London Times which made a lot of the points about Team GB outlined above, was to cringe ever so slightly.

How could he be so naïve? But to listen to many GAA people talk about our own is to fall into many of the same traps. I’m afraid, as an organisation, we have all been guilty of drinking the Kool-aid at one stage or another.

We’ll fight tooth and nail over how the whole show operates amongst ourselves, of course, but we bow to no-one when it comes to talking ourselves up externally. My wife will lock herself in a darkened room if she overhears one more American tourist ask me what this hurling business is all about.

The sport I hear myself describing in reply sounds less like an outdoor pursuit and more like a yogic journey toward self-discovery the ultimate aim of which is to turn the real hurling men and women of the country into the giant space baby at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The fact is, we should never look to sport, any sport, to showcase the best in human nature. Sport matters a hell of a lot, to those who practice it at least, and winning matters the most. That’s why they push the boundaries of fair play, and that’s why we watch. I don’t think it does anyone any favours to look at the GAA and see it as a last bastion of Corinthian ideals.

Our non-segregated crowds are great, but the intimidation of referees at club level is a nationally-tolerated disgrace. Our players aren’t paid, but in order to win are capable of being as devious and as callous as any professional. Our coaches are paid, and no-one seems to care. Our decision-making process is democratic . . . and it’s holding the entire organisation back.

Sports body

But having seen the precipitous decline of the Olympic movement, keeping our eyes open to the GAA’ shortcomings is the least we owe it.

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