GAA association president John Horan has expressed confidence that there will be further state funding for Gaelic games. Last year’s All-Ireland championships were made possible because the three organisations, GAA, women’s football and camogie were in receipt of a special €15 million grant.
He was speaking on Sunday to RTÉ Radio 1’s ‘This Week’ programme after a week in which the Minister of state for Sport Jack Chambers revealed Gaelic games had lost its exempt status under Level 5 pandemic restrictions and that as a result, intercounty activity will not return until Easter at the earliest.
Croke Park’s annual financial report will be released on Tuesday and is expected to show significant losses after a year in which there were virtually no gate receipts with other commercial income also affected by the lockdown.
“You’re talking about the loss last year of about €31 million,” he said, “and there will be similar losses again this year but look, we are a big organisation. We will drive on and won’t let money become an impediment in our functioning as an organisation.
“The Government in fairness supported us last year and that came up in the conversation with the Minister the other day as well – what level of funding might be available to the three organisations and how could we go about getting it again. He did indicate that there was money in the budget but he felt that would probably be a need for more money as the pandemic has worsened rather than improved, certainly in the short term.”
The president also said that he has made representations to Government to allow juvenile training to resume when the schools return, as is expected next month under the revised ‘Living with Covid’ guidelines.
He said that he’d been speaking twice since last week’s meeting with the Minister, who he described as having been “very helpful to us throughout the pandemic and very accessible” and had pressed the case of children’s sport.
“I indicated that I felt that we as an organisation could return with our juveniles when schools got back because it is good for the mental health of juveniles to get then back training. Up to Christmas we were operating safely within our clubs in pods with over 1,000 juveniles logging on to our WhatsApp ‘return to play’ protocol. And it all worked out very well.”
In the circumstances he said that the GAA were unable to provide clarity on when there would be a return to play at intercounty level.
“No. We asked the Minister when he saw us returning to play. He outlined to us that the return to education and construction were likely to be the main changes at the next level that comes forward on March 5th. We asked where did sport fit in and he said that he didn’t see any changes coming in the remit of sport.
That’s why we called our Covid committee together to give certainty to both out intercounty teams and our clubs out there. We made it clear that on the basis of what the Minister had told us we didn’t see any changes coming until the beginning of April.
“It’s at that stage that the GAA will sit down and look at a programme that would be feasible for clubs and our intercounty to actually function within.”
Horan reiterated last Thursday’s statement that the loss of intercounty exemption had been explained to him as being the result of amateur status.
“The Minister mentioned the word ‘bubbles’ to us. Other sports were allowed back in a ‘bubble’ environment. We couldn’t create a ‘bubble’ environment. If camogie, ladies’ football and the GAA went back in the morning at intercounty level, you’d be talking about over 5,000 players, who don’t have a professional contract, who work within society and have families and would be at risk.”