Why so many people hate the GAA

18th April 2001

BOGBALL and Stick-Fighting are names applied to Gaelic games by those who hate the GAA.

They are not standard put-downs – they are filled with loathing. There is something about Gaelic games in general, and the GAA in particular, that drives a large section of the Irish population apoplectic.

As a member of the GAA I am sometimes subjected to this rage and contempt.

And in turn I have been known to shout and swear in return.

I’m convinced that there is a general prejudice against the GAA and I think it can be measured.

Compare the reaction to the FAI getting £87 million to the reaction to the GAA getting £20 million originally for Croke Park. The FAI got nowhere near the level of abuse and hostility.

All the organisations that popped up to critise the £20 million went silent when the FAI’s £87 million was being waved about.

Consider the advertising for sports clothes. One major retailer runs an ad which flashes through about a dozen sports to the background of rock music. Soccer, baseball and athletics feature prominently.

Gaelic sports, the biggest crowd pullers in Ireland, don’t rate a mention. It just isn’t cool in the eyes of some marketing people.

I remember back in 1995 when Clare won their first All-Ireland of the modern era. They were the toast of the country and they captured the imagination of a huge number of people.

Around Christmas that year The Irish Times asked about 20 celebrities, writers, business people and entertainers for their most memorable sporting moment of the year.

Just one or two mentioned Clare’s win. Yet you could have walked into any bar in Ireland and the exploits of the Bannermen would have been number one.

That there is a large anti-GAA feeling is undeniable. The question is why.

I believe that the primary reason is not actually the GAA itself but that the GAA has compounded the problem by its intransigence.

The problem is that the modern thrust of society aspires to a Euro-American lifestyle and the GAA doesn’t fit in.

This aspiration has been promoted and picked up by the media over the past 30 years or so. There has been a massive rejection of traditional Irish institutions and values. Many of the institutions and values are acutely embarrassing to the young and the aspiring middle classes.

The Catholic Church has been the main recipient of this anger. Fianna Fail is a close runner up. Eamonn De Valera is now the face of this villainy. Fine Gael, the Irish language, nationalism, even traditional music has received some of the backlash.

And the GAA was always part of this milieu. Even if did nothing wrong it was never going to avoid this modernist backlash.

The GAA is an organisation in relative decline. In many parts of Ireland the GAA was the top dog. That position has been eroded, thankfully, because in the main it was maintained by lack of choice.

Decline is very difficult to deal with. Ideals and world views disappear and for many older people there is an inevitable sense of loss.

Many of those most opposed to change are those most fearful for the future of Gaelic games. They see our unique sports culture being relegated behind international sport. They react out of that fear and they react negatively.

They have the power to influence the organisation and they do so. The rest of society then regards the GAA accordingly.

So there it is. We are part-victim and part-culprit.

The vast majority of young footballers and hurlers don’t want the GAA to perch itself in spledid isolation but the structures of the organisation is weighed against change.

The remedy is obvious.

The general membership of the GAA must be allowed to directly elect the officers of the GAA so that those of us who do not fear the dreaded soccer can have our views properly carried through.

As well as that…

Harney’s dubious pluralism credentials

MARY Harney has gone gung-ho on the the need to extract a price from the GAA for the infamous £60 million.

Her attitude is that if the Government supplies the money, then the Government has a right to a say in how it is spent.

She says that neither herself or the PDs could agree to such a payout.

This from the woman and the party whose pluralist piety has been preached at us for the last 20 tiresome years.

The meaning of pluralism, Mary, is that the various sectors, groups and individuals in society have a right to decide for themselves how to run their lives.

You also get your cash from the State, Mary. Will you agree that the cabinet should discuss how you spend it?

The GAA gets its money on the grounds that it provides facilities and activities for hundreds of thousands of children and adults. Full stop. The State has no right to interfere with how the GAA runs its internal affairs.

Isn’t it funny how the champion of economic and social liberalism now wants the State to interfere in a private democratic organisation?

Or maybe it’s just cheap populist posturing from Her Holiness, the Righteous Queen of Irish Politics.