Professor and Director of Sports Law at Melbourne University Jack Anderson explained that there may be a number of ways in which the GAA could let Liam Miller’s testimonial take place at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Anderson told Pundit Arena that the Central Council could choose to have some discretion in their reading of Section 5 of their rulebook which states that any use of a stadium must be in line with the aims and ethos of the organisation.
He outlined that it could be a “straightforward” way of interpreting the rule should the Central Council choose to read it that way.
“The Central Council have said now that they cannot allow the event to take place in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and that they’re rule-bound by that but I think if you look at section 5 of their rulebook, they have a little bit of discretion where something might be in line with the general aims and ethos of the organisation to allow it and therefore this event, which is a charity event, may possibly fall under that section.
“It’s a reading of section five which in some ways can be quite liberal but in other ways maybe it’s straightforward and it really depends on whether or not there’s a will to read it that way.”
Anderson also explained that the organisers of the testimonial could use the discretion to play into the rulebook itself, by including a “celebration of sport in Cork” type event thus effectively making it a community gathering.
“It also may be possible in that in that discretion the organisers of the event include GAA type activities in the event itself so one of the ideas that you could have might be that maybe on the evening in question Páirc Uí Chaoimh could be the host for a celebration of sport in Cork generally from athletics to soccer to gaa.
“It would be a nice community event which would definitely be in line with what the gaa is trying to achieve more generally so that’s one way.”
The issue with Páirc Ui Chaoimh arose during the week when the news broke that the GAA had made the 45,000 seater stadium unavailable for Liam Miller’s testimonial in September.
The GAA then released a statement on Friday reaffirming their stance on the issue and outlining that they got legal advice which Anderson feels “seems to end the matter”
“The GAA has sought legal advice on this and it’s basically said that it has no discretion and it also pointed a European law angle to it which relates to the funding of Páirc Ui Chaoimh”, began Anderson
“They got legal advice that seems to end the matter but my own view is that there is discretion and I think that could be enough to justify this.
“It’s also important to remember that that discretion doesn’t mean a precedent is set, it’s just a discretion and one that they have used before to hold other events which would not normally be classified as GAA events.”
The Professor of Sports law also explored a new angle, one that would allow the Director-General, as the Chief Executive, to allow the event.
“Another way would be that the Director General recently was given wider powers under the guide in section 3.44 which allows the director general as the chief executive to enter into contracts which are in line with the ordinary course of the GAA’s business so that might be a way that the management committee of the GAA and the Director General as Chief Executive could possibly allow the event.
“Again though it all depends on whether the GAA decide to exercise that discretion and from what I can gather the GAA is of the view that it doesn’t have a discretion on this and that the only way things can be changed is at the next available congress and I suppose we all have to respect that but all I’m doing is pointing out ways that they might be justified in exercising a discretion.”
When tweeting about the situation earlier, Anderson mentioned the €30 million of government funding that had gone into Pairc Ui Chaoimh via EU state aid.
some #sportslaw advice on Liam Miller event : prob no need to wait for a GAA Congress, s5 1(a) of GAA Guide could give Central Council discretion to sanction use of PuiC "for purpose not in conflict with Aims" of GAA & one in line with EU commission state aid decision on 30m.
— Jack Anderson (@sportslawMELB) July 20, 2018
He explained that there could be a grey area surrounding a breach of the agreement upon which this money was granted to the GAA but that that is more than likely not a line to be taken.
“Where a government gives large amounts of money to a large organisation there are EU rules around this which is called state aid,” said Anderson.
“They generally come up in major industries like aviation etc but they have come up in sport, for example, the Spanish government was accused of giving tax breaks to Real Madrid so it came up in the Páirc Uí Chaoimh scenario.
“Now the EU commission was actually quite understanding to the GAA and what the GAA tried to achieve in communities all around Ireland but it did expressly note that there wouldn’t be an exclusivity to the use of the stadium itself, that there would be non commercial and community events being held in that as part of the sign off on the state aid so there is some argument now whether or not the GAA are in breach of these rules.”
“In my opinion that isn’t a line that is to be taken. I think we can look at this within the rulebook as it exists currently and there may be discretions there.”
As the debate over whether or not the GAA are within their rights to refuse the use of the stadium or not continues to rage on, Anderson outlines that it’s important to remember that behind all the cold legal terms, the reason behind the event must not be ignored.
“In talking about this it’s very important to remember that it’s an event for Liam Miller.
It’s an event for his family and friends and there’s all these legalities now flying around. At the end of the day this event for Liam is the most important thing regardless of how cold the legalities sound.”