Sunday, September 30, 2012

The GAA is an Anachronism

I've always loved Championship Sundays in the summer.  It reminds me of days on the beach, with water too cold to swim in, cola flavoured Mr Freeze, and frenetic half-Irish commentary on the battery powered radio.  These days, much older and far too wise for the folly of an Irish beach, I am afraid to say that the GAA has lost its relevance.

In the first instance, it has not changed and adapted to the needs of modern, globalised sport.  It has all of the apparatus of a professional game - negotiated broadcast rights, sponsorship, world class stadia - and yet it is run by and participated in by amateurs.  In the second instance, it remains wedded to the parish, the old Catholic church based divisions, and an ancient community structure that is crumbling at the edges.  Arguably, while the GAA adopted the structure in order to organise itself, it remains today the strongest representation of the parish structure, church participation having dissipated so much in recent years.  It's certainly the case that people identify more with the local GAA team than they do with the local church these days.  By extension, the county system doesn't benefit the game either.  Age old affiliation to the county system - a British system, it should be noted - has ignored demographic shifts, creating huge swathes of the country without representation in national competitions.  Extraordinary lethargy in shedding the old Fenian bluster has further set it apart from a modernizing Irish society, a country - North and South - more interested in finding some kind of contentment for themselves and their families than fighting their grandparents' wars.

What remains is a series of pockets of exceptionally dedicated, motivated people, keeping the game alive in spite of the game's administration, and those groups are getting smaller and smaller.  Their children are emigrating, lost maybe for two or three years at best, but two or three of their greatest years, those years that would turn them into senior players.  Where they're not emigrating, they're playing rugby, or soccer, or simply staying home, because it's not relevant to them.  The GAA is about nostalgia, about what happened in the past - young people are interested in the future, of unlimited possibility.

Still, the GAA represents the best community infrastructure that this country has.  Its challenge, and the challenge of our country, is to see that it survives, and thrives.  It must change.

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