FOR one of the smallest nations in the world, Ireland has continued to produce hundreds of elite athletes in a range of different sports.
From boxing to rowing and even down to our domestic sports it is safe to say that we are spoilt for choice.
But what happens to the essence of sports when the number one outcome seems to be money? Is there too much pressure being applied to athletes to perform just so companies can make a profit?
Capitalism, it is argued, is the sole reason we live in a world of inequality and as a result, we live in a society that strives to consume.
The world of sport is no different in this regard.
In the early 1990s the new satellite broadcaster Sky/BSB needed a reason for people to subscribe. Simultaneously the top teams in English football realised they could make more money for TV rights as they broke away to form the Premier League.
The deal they struck with Sky in 1992 was worth £38 million a year, in 2021 this contract has been extended to £51 billion.
If you look at this deal from an Irish perspective in terms of the Sky arrangement with the GAA which has recently been sacked might come to mind.
What was most interesting initially about this contract was the fact that it doesn’t naturally fit in the way it does for soccer and the Premier league. The sights of the Etihad stadium and Anfield where everything looks sleek and expensive are a far cry from Dr Hyde Park in Roscommon with a graveyard adjacent.
This deal just seemed out of touch with the realities of living here. Rural Irish communities are currently in a situation where there is next to no mobile phone coverage, let alone Wi-Fi with over 2mb of speed to access a live stream of GAA.
The essence of GAA, in theory, is that it allows us all to be in an amateur status.
This condition is designed to make sure the playing field is equal and that no one can be separated by money, status, or power, just power and skill.
Yet we find ourselves in the position where counties like Dublin and Limerick have huge sponsorship deals that could ensure the correct facilities for an Olympic-bound athlete to excel in their chosen field, never mind an ‘amateur’ player.
We see other team’s doing charitable things to reach new heights. That is a rejection of amateurism and a step towards capitalism.
Ultimately sport will always reflect the society we live in. As the gulf of football is widening at an alarming rate, GAA chiefs find themselves in an unenviable position.
Do they try and move the sport forward by trying to commercialise one of the most beloved sports in the country or do they keep with the tradition that is already there?
In October of this year, Sky Sports and the GAA ended their nine-year broadcasting deal when the two sides could not agree on the terms. This deal that was made in 2014 put some championship games behind a paywall which provoked a huge reaction in local communities.
Sky’s coverage of Gaelic games has not been without controversy with several motions going to Congress attempting to compel the GAA to make all games free to air. These price increases seemed to contradict everything that the GAA stands for.
We are used to attending games in harsh weather conditions, cheering on our local or county teams, not watching them through panoramic camera angles or high-tech analysis.
It feels like the very ethos of the amateur sport has changed into a commodity that is dictated by TV and media companies who are looking to capitalise on our unwavering support.
Maybe the game itself needs this level of analysis as it tries to keep up with the ever-growing standard of play.
GAA is almost turning into a professional sport in terms of how much time players give up to training, games and ultimately the way they live their lives.
Even if this is another aspect of our lives that becomes a commodity, broadcasters and the GAA itself have to step up and keep up with the game itself.