The recent stalemate between Sport Ireland and the Gaelic Players Association(GPA) doesn’t show signs of cracking and many inter-county GAA players are beginning to feel the financial burden of the showdown and extreme criticism from fellow athletes.
The clash ensued when the GPA refused the sporting authority’s request for GAA players to provide their home addresses to provide for home drug testing by 2019. Sport Ireland are now withholding last year’s player grants until the terms are agreed to. Acting CEO of the GPA, Limerick hurler Seamus Hickey, slammed the decision to withhold the grants in a column last week in the Irish Examiner. Hickey, who is opposing the linking of the grants to the home-testing issue, stated that according to player feedback, many are unhappy with Sport Ireland’s request.
“Should the GPA agree to these new terms, all inter-county players would be subject to home testing which, in our view is a wholly unreasonable demand on amateur athletes” he wrote.
“We have in recent weeks consulted with you the player base through our Player Engagement Officers on this issue and the feedback from across the country has been overwhelmingly against at home testing.”
Players are owed somewhere between around €700 to €1,700, from the taxpayer’s pocket, depending on how far they advanced in last year’s All-Ireland senior football and hurling championships.
Hickey highlighted the importance of these grants to many players, some of whom are still in education and don’t have the time to get a part-time job because of their sporting commitments.
Debate has ensued over the issue and members of the GAA community have spoken against Sport Ireland’s new requirement. Former Cork player and selector Diarmuid O’Sullivan has slammed the idea of home-testing, as reported in the Irish Independent.
“These are amateur players you’re talking about here, not professional athletes so I wouldn’t see it as being fit for anti-doping tests to be carried out on these players outside of training hours”
“If they were being paid for a living to play GAA and drug testing was part of their contractual agreement then that’s fair. But I don’t think this is a fair expectation.”
Since 2001, only two positive drug tests from inter-county GAA players have been recorded. Players are already subject to urine and blood samples during training times and argue that they shouldn’t need to give up their time at home as well.
Sport Ireland’s head of anti-doping, Dr Una May, insisted that they have always reserved the right to test at home, but their preference is to test at collective training and in competition.
She also spoke out against some of Hickey’s allegations stating that the initial talks took place in December, not in the “11th hour” like Hickey as claimed.
Of the need for the addresses, May said: “It means if we receive information we can clarify it and [discover] if it leads to an individual.
“For example, if we received information that said Joe Bloggs was in receipt of a prohibited substance, for example, we would be able to corroborate the information we received with the address.
“It’s never been our intention to make [home testing] a routine part of our programme, but we have the right to test players in any sport, in any environment,” she said.
Some of Ireland’s top professional athletes and journalists have hit back at the GPA for not complying with the request.
Former Olympic athlete, Sonia O’Sullivan tweeted this week, “I can’t see what the problem is with getting tested at home, it’s easier than having to go somewhere to be tested and it’s not like they are turning up every day, once every few months at best.”
Runner Lizzie Lee also spoke out online on the matter.
“I’ve had testers wake my smallies on a week/school night to take my blood in my kitchen. I’m ok with it, as it makes my performances believable and helps sport as a whole,” she tweeted. John Greene wrote in the Independent this week that, “The players are in receipt of taxpayers’ money. Public money comes with terms and conditions” and he compared the GPA’s issue with that of the lack of funding for Rowing Ireland.
While all of this is going on, the O’Donovan brothers are having difficulties of their own, real difficulties. The Southern Star reported that the brothers would have to “beg, borrow or steal” a boat to compete in a World Cup rowing event in Austria at the end of the month and, shockingly, that they would likely have to pay their own way too.
“The GPA’s reticence looks sadly misplaced when you consider we have two world-class athletes at the top of their sport internationally thinking about having to pay their own way to a world cup event.”
He added, “Inter-county footballers and hurlers portray themselves as elite athletes but sometimes seem oblivious to the responsibilities that come with that.”
Inter-county GAA players have long been reminding us of their amateur status athletes who dedicate themselves to a sport that they cannot give up work for. Yet as the world of social media continues to proliferate, many county players, especially on the men’s teams, are picking up many more benefits than some of Ireland’s top professional athletes.
The question of whether the players should be tested come down to whether or not they want to be seen as professionals or as amateurs.
An idea they have been rowing back and forth with for a number of years on a very well-funded boat.