The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) made an historic decision at the organization’s annual congress this year by opening up its Croke Park headquarters to non-GAA sporting events such as international soccer and rugby. The decision marked the end of a highly contentious debate that has caused bitter division within the Association in recent years.
Under the GAA’s Rule 42, `foreign’ sports were effectively prohibited from using GAA facilities. However, the costly development of Croke Park into a magnificent stadium altered the debate, with a groundswell of opinion looking for change. Many who campaigned against Rule 42 put it down to a simple matter of economics. The state-of-the-art 80,000-seat stadium has placed a financial strain on the GAA, and few of the Gaelic football or hurling matches staged there can fill the facility to capacity. Renting it out for big international soccer or rugby matches would provide a significant new revenue stream for the GAA.
Many within the Association also felt that Rule 42 made the GAA appear old-fashioned and out of step with modern Ireland. The excellence of the stadium itself is testimony to advances made by the GAA, and campaigners hoped a more inclusive sports policy would move the Association forward rather than leave it standing still.
The vote at the congress required a two-thirds majority, and although it passed by 227 votes to 97, the margin was tight enough to indicate widespread opposition to the change. Significantly, every Ulster County except Donegal and Cavan voted in favor of upholding Rule 42. The successful motion allows for the GAA to rent out Croke Park to the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) under certain circumstances. However, this provision is subject to a time frame set by reconstruction of the outdated IRFU stadium at Lansdowne Road.
Residents in the Croke Park area are unhappy that the volume and array of events taking place at the venue may be expanded. In June they will see U2 play three sell-out concerts at the stadium, and following this historic decision at the congress, the prospect of international sports events in Croke Park is a real possibility. ♦