Gambling in the GAA now a real problem

We ALL miss the inter-county action at this time of the year but what inevitably happens is that news which might otherwise receive little attention ends up grabbing the headlines.

We ALL miss the inter-county action at this time of the year but what inevitably happens is that news which might otherwise receive little attention ends up grabbing the headlines.

One such issue was the statement from Gaelic Players Association chief, Dessie Farrell, last week expressing concerns at the growth in gambling addiction among inter-county players. This should not have come as a surprise to anyone.

Two high-profile cases in recent years brought the subject into the public arena. It may have a been a taboo subject in the past, but the growth in on-line betting (in particular) is now resulting in many individuals, not just GAA players, becoming addicted to what was once seen as a little flutter.

Former Armagh player, Oisín McConville, outlined graphically in his autobiography the impact gambling had on his life. It was devastating and he ended up losing heavily on what started out as a bit of fun.

By speaking out about the subject and the effect it had on his life, McConville has done a great service to his fellow sportsmen. His honest admission of the trauma and impact on both him and his family will have struck a chord with many others.

Professional help

Another player from a midlands county has also spoken about the impact gambling has had on his life and how he found it necessary to seek professional help for the addiction.

The ease with which betting can be transacted nowadays via smart phones and other on-line means (even by a basic phone) makes it attractive to many people, not just sportsmen. So deeply are some individuals immersed in the betting game that it becomes difficult to say stop!

The GPA deserves credit for bringing the issue of gambling to the forefront at this time. This fits well into the player welfare category and shows how the GPA can, in conjunction with the GAA, assist players who may have developed a gambling addiction.

The problem, though, is not confined to inter-county players and is probably far more acute among club players. For the most part these players are left on their own with little or no support, unless club officers are able to identify potential problems.

Not practical

I am confident that the GPA initiative coupled with the support of the GAA will provide meaningful help to any inter-county player who has developed a gambling addiction. But it is important that any learning from this process is also used to develop a support model for club players.

I accept it is not practical to roll out a programme to meet the requirements of the entire club-playing population.

However, it should be possible to develop a basic telephone support service which could provide advice to any club player who requires help with their gambling addiction.

Odds were available at a number of bookmakers covering the majority of games played last weekend in Kilkenny. Be in no doubt that gambling in the GAA is as big an issue locally as it is nationally.

That begs the ultimate question as to whether this activity is having any influence on the outcome of games.