Grubby though the subject of money is, it is at the heart of this dispute in GAA
Can we call them amateur players for seeking better expenses?
WITH the world in turmoil, it may have escaped the attention of all but the most dedicated GAA fans that the start of the 2022 All-Ireland football and hurling championships is 22 days away.
It will also probably be news to them that most managers and all players – unless they are paid to do so by a commercial sponsor – will not be speaking publicly about the championship because of a dispute between the GAA and the Gaelic Players’ Association over player expenses.
Frankly, the public utterances of players and managers has become so banal their comments will scarcely be missed.
Nobody is more pleased than journalists that they do not have to traipse down to dressing rooms after games to gather the obligatory quotes or ‘nanny goats’ as they are sometimes referred to in the business.
But this row has nothing to do with journalists, though it does place us in a moral bind.
We are paid to report on games and seek out the quotes. The players, as opposed to many inter-county managers, do not get paid to play.
So, can we call them amateur players for seeking better expenses?
Grubby though the subject of money is, it is at the heart of this dispute.
Even when it is resolved - as it most assuredly will be - there will be more stand-offs down the line. Why? The GAA model is no longer fit for purpose.
The genie disappeared out of the bottle long ago.
We foolishly thought things would be different in a post Covid-19 world. But the same old issues have re-surfaced.
Ostensibly this stand-off is about a break-down in negotiations over a new Players Charter and specifically, inter-county players expenses.
During the pandemic, the players accepted a cut in the mileage rate they were paid to travel to training and matches because the GAA’s income streams fell off the cliff.
The GPA claim the GAA originally wanted to retain this new 50-cent-per-mile rate. They offered to increase the rate to 65 cent per mile, capped at three training sessions/games a week.
At this point the GPA left the negotiating table. Within 24 hours the GAA had agreed to pay the 65 cent per mile for four sessions/matches per week.
It is worth noting that while Croke Park sign the expenses cheques the players receive, they claw back 75% of these expenses from the County Boards.
Croke Park has said if players are asked to assemble for more than four sessions a week, they are free to negotiate additional expenses from their County Board. The GPA say this is unacceptable as it could leave players out of pocket.
All this is against the background of an ERSI report published in 2016 which revealed that inter-county players were then spending up to 31 hours a week towards their GAA commitments.
Everybody agreed this was not sustainable.
In 2019 the total cost of preparing inter-county teams had soared to €31m.
Realistically, given there is anecdotal evidence that payments – particularly to inter-county managers are made ‘off-the-book’ often by third parties – the actual figure is greater.
Croke Park know that asking County Boards to restrict the number of training sessions managers want is a futile exercise.
Even when the country was virtually on its knees during the pandemic GAA team managers broke the Covid-19 rules and staged training sessions. So, a voluntary code of conduct will not work.
Restricting the number of sessions to three a week was a crude, though effective way of curbing the excesses of team managers. But the GAA crumbled at the first sign of resistance by increasing it to four sessions a week.
The GPA have argued that they want a scientifically driven approach to training with the number of sessions being determined by the specific needs of each player.
It sounds good in theory but it's hard to see how it would work on a practical level
A more innovative approach to these thorny issues would be to introduce a cap on inter-county spending on each county.
County Board accounts would have to be subjected to forensic analysis with penalties imposed on boards who broke their cap.
The GAA too must be mindful that it is the inter-county players who generate the bulk of the Association’s revenues.
Regardless of their public utterances, players want a bigger slice of the financial cake.
This row is merely a skirmish in what is going to be an ongoing war of attrition between the two bodies over cash for as long as sham amateurism is tolerated.
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