GAA Football

GAA Congress needs faithful electors to fully represent all its membership

GAA President Aogan O Fearghail (left) and Director-General Paraic Duffy strongly backed the new 'Super 8' stage for the All-Ireland SFC.

THE term 'faithless elector' resonated faintly with me from random reading about the history of the USA – and there were loud echoes of it as alarm bells rang at the weekend about the future of the GAA.

GAA's Annual Congress has been compared to the USA's electoral college, with delegates mandated to vote a certain way by the people they represent.

Not all do so faithfully, though.

In the US, Donald Trump secured 306 pledged electors and Hillary Clinton 232; yet only 304 actually voted for Trump, and just 227 for Clinton, with those 'missing' seven votes being spread among four other people, including three to Colin Powell and one to Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American activist and politician. A further three electors attempted to vote against Clinton but were replaced or forced to vote again (for her).

I'm not suggesting any re-count is required in any of the votes at GAA Congress, but a re-think is definitely needed by the Association as a whole.

The big question from Congress at the weekend is this: who do delegates actually represent?

There are definitely some equivalents of faithless electors among delegates.

When a large majority of players, at both inter-county and club levels, opposes changing the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals into group stages from next year, but more than 75 per cent of Congress delegates vote to do precisely that, then there is something seriously wrong.

Joe Brolly's description of modern players as 'indentured servants' pings back into the brain.

Yet although we in the media are the first to acknowledge that players are extremely important, they are not the be-all and end-all of the Association.

It should not be forgotten that the vast majority of delegates, if not all of them, are former players themselves, with club and occasionally county.

Perhaps some of them now look at a bigger picture than the inter-county scene, aware of the need to keep money coming in for the Association as a whole.

However, turn around that earlier paragraph: players are not the be-all and end-all of the Association – but they are extremely important.

We often hear that 'games would not go ahead without referees'; they definitely would not happen without players.

But there's still the mindset among some county board officials that players should just be grateful to be given a county (or even a club) jersey, accept the privilege – and whatever demands go with it.

There's definitely a whiff of that attitude in the Tyrone county board's decision to ask their senior footballers to stump up £15 each towards the cost of training equipment.

Assuming that the money is only being asked of both Red Hand senior squads, the amount raised accounts for less than 0.1 per cent of the county's total income (£1.38m last year). Even taken against the money spent on all the county's teams in 2016 (£412,200), it's around 0.25 per cent.

The amount of money accrued clearly doesn't really matter to the county board, so obviously some point is being made.

Pitting the money accrued against the damage done to team morale offers a very clear expression of the term 'false economy': the money saved is almost meaningless, but the harm done could be almost incalculable.

'For want of a nail…the kingdom was lost'

The other side of the coin is that Tyrone GAA still has borrowings of almost £1.23m for the Garvaghey project, so it can be argued they are sensible to save the pennies in order to help clear that debt.

The Club Players Association might be wise to follow the Tyrone board's lead.

The worth of the CPA's 20,000-plus 'members' has been belittled by the fact that they don't have to pay any fee.

There's something in that derision, but it's also ludicrous to dismiss and discount the views of so many people.

Membership, though, should require a certain commitment and perhaps that commitment should come at a financial cost. That would certainly deter those who simply want to shout from the sidelines rather than becoming more actively involved.

Jarlath Burns has made a very good point that the Gaelic Players Association should have consulted much better with their membership – but that argument is valid only up to a point.

No matter how hard the GPA canvassed the players, their voting power would still have been extremely limited – to one vote at Congress.

The voting power of the Club Players Association was non-existent.

The power at Congress is with the delegates.

How much genuine consultation was there with club delegates?

And how much did county boards and clubs consult the players who represent them?

My colleague Cahair O'Kane put in great effort ringing around all 32 counties in an attempt to ascertain how they would vote on this issue.

To his surprise – but not mine – some officials told him that there had been no debate on the subject in their county.

Some said that delegates would simply be voting as they personally saw fit. Not based on what players, supporters, volunteers, or anyone else thought.

Some were more concerned about who would become President-elect (congratulations, by the way, to John Horan, the most overshadowed Uachtaran Tofa ever).

In this age of technology, it should not be difficult for all fully paid-up adult members of the GAA to be allowed to vote on the motions that come before Congress.

Those opinions don't have to be carried forward on a county bloc basis either, which is a major flaw in the US electoral college system.

What would be wrong with Antrim, for example (as the first county alphabetically), voting 61.35 per cent for the 'Super 8'? And Derry voting 60.23 per cent against it? And so on? And totting up all those votes that would actually have been garnered from the membership of the Association?

Or three of Antrim's delegates could have voted 'for' and two 'against' and vice versa for Derry, to accurately reflect the mood in those respective counties.

There's still a place for Congress to debate and discuss issues.

Yet if delegates decide to vote against the way they were mandated then they should have to go back to their clubs and counties and explain themselves - or potentially be voted out of office.

I've written before that those complaining about 'the GAA' need to stand up and be counted themselves – and that should be taken quite literally. They need to make their views heard at club and county levels.

The GAA is akin to a religion for many; all members, including current club and county players, need faithful electors to reflect what they truly believe.

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