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GAA must reconnect with grassroots

An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

This is not sour grapes. The outcome on Saturday was not the one we wanted, but even if we were celebrating a win, well, it still matters.
This isn’t really designed as a moan about the GAA. If you were to lay out the many positive things about the association alongside the gripes, it goes without saying that the GAA is a massive force for good in Ireland. There are so many good things to be said, and sometimes they don’t get highlighted nearly enough. Its ethos is sound; it binds communities and clubs, counties and countries together; it contributes enormously to all of these outside of sport; and it is, alongside other sporting organisations, a significant player in promoting the benefits of physical activity to health. It also promotes an ethos of volunteerism at a time when we need volunteers more than ever.
However, the chasm that is widening daily between the grassroots and the ‘corporate’ arms of the GAA cannot be ignored for much longer; there is an unprecedented level of tension there between the amateur and the professional, and something will have to give.
Take the SKY deal; something that has rankled for so long with members and non-members alike, with the criticism showing no signs of abating. It can be argued that it has put pressure on RTÉ to up its game – and certainly not before time – but ultimately, the association has for the first time created a situation where people with more money now have greater access to games. Fundamentally, that is an affront to the values on which the GAA was built in the first place, and the arguments in its favour do not stack up. The argument that more games are shown on TV as a result does not wash; either show a game that everyone can see regardless of their financial situation, or don’t show it at all, to anyone.
Nothing will convince me, either, that the Super 8s format was not financially driven. The experiment has categorically failed on so many levels; it does nothing for weaker counties, and the GAA now needs to show real leadership and restructure the championship, and address the funding inequities that exist.
Bulldozing through a two-tier system is not the solution to that problem, and the current president John Horan has won no fans through his blind defence of the current situation that has benefited his native county so well, while simultaneously refusing to engage meaningfully with members on proper, fair reform.
The ‘Corporate GAA’, too, would do well to start respecting supporters, including those from outside the association that put their hands in their pockets. From the ‘off to Limerick with ye’ debacle in 2014, to being told that fans can no longer bring flags into Croke Park, to the €5 Super 8 programmes, to the contempt with which season ticket holders are treated when they try to address issues with their accounts, to last week’s ticket debacle, their authoritarian, unfriendly stance wins them no friends and contributes to the ‘Grab-All Association’ accusation of which it is unfairly accused. It’s not, however, that the GAA doesn’t ever listen. The season ticket, for example, was introduced based on fan feedback, to cater for those that attended games all year round but could not access a final ticket. When it works – as it mostly does – it is an excellent, fair system, and outside Dublin, no county has benefited more from it than Mayo.
Of late, writers and commentators have been highlighting these things, and challenging the GAA in a fair and reasoned manner. There is an argument that club delegates also need to step up, but it is easy to hurl from the ditches. When money and support for clubs from the higher echelons is at stake, there is a risk involved.  Everyone also has the opportunity to join a club, get more involved in it and in time, claim a seat at the table. Funnily enough, the appetite for that seems pretty scant.
The GAA never claimed to be perfect. But if it is indeed, ‘where we all belong’, the time has come to address the reality that some currently belong more than others.