Warning of ‘silent burnout’ among GAA volunteers and officers

By Michael Moynihan

Cork GAA is in danger of “silent burnout” among volunteers and officers, says the county board’s senior administrator Diarmuid O’Donovan.

In the board’s annual report, O’Donovan points to instances of games having to be moved to different venues due to the absence of volunteers to open the pitches where those games were originally fixed.

The Cork county championship programme has expanded to 19 championships over the past decade, writes O’Donovan, adding: “The Coiste na nÓg programme has expanded to multiples of this figure.

The primary reason for the expansion was to allow more clubs to be competitive and successful.

“It has achieved this in so far as there are now 19 county championship winners each year when once there were only 10.”

However, that expansion in the number of competitions has not seen a parallel increase in the number of volunteers involved in clubs, says O’Donovan.

“The expansion has also exposed many club volunteers into giving commitments that they are really not in a position to maintain. Clubs are now involved in many more championship games than they were a decade ago.

“Yet it would seem that the level of volunteers available to manage all this extra activity has not increased at all.

“It is not unusual to see clubs going into the latter stages of five or six county championships between minor, U21, junior A or B, intermediate and senior levels.

“This causes an inevitable overlap of player commitments, which is constantly highlighted when clubs and Divisions seek postponements.

The championship programme has also highlighted the overlap in commitments of the officers in the clubs, the selectors of the clubs, the people who open the field and dressing rooms every single night as well as referees and umpires.

“We constantly hear of player burnout, there is an equally serious but silent burnout at work in this section of the GAA community.

"This is the time of the year when the non-playing volunteers should get a chance to sit back, reflect on their year and begin to plan for next year.

"As someone who is in constant contact with many of these non-playing volunteers, it appears more and more of their reflection is: ‘Do I really want to go through that again next year?’”

O’Donovan calls for an overhaul of the club fixture programme as a result: “This burden on club volunteers is not good for clubs.

Our fixtures programme needs to be reviewed, not just for the sake of the players involved, but also for the hundreds of people behind the scenes who ensure the games are organised and played.

“Playing and organising Gaelic games is only one aspect of modern life, neither the players nor volunteers can afford to make it the only aspect of their lives. We need to ensure we do not over-burden our volunteers.

"If we do not take a serious look at the scheduling of our championship programme we will lose the support workforce and it will be impossible to sustain our wonderful and meaningful championships.

“The matter is addressed in the Strategic Plan 2018-2020 and I would ask all clubs to take the matters of volunteer recruitment and succession of officer planning very seriously.

“The current practice of completing the vast majority of our 19 county championships in the month of October is questionable.

"The format of the new inter-county games Programme is going to challenge this practice anyway, but rather than wait until the inevitable clashes that will occur next August, September and October, I would implore clubs, incoming county board and divisional officers to give serious consideration as to how, and when, we want our games played and our Championship completed.

“One of the more notable issues that arose this year was the unavailability of venues throughout the county because, quite simply, volunteers were not in a position to maintain club pitches to the required playing standard in the month of October.

“Several Fé-21 Premier Hurling Championship games had to be moved to other dates because suitable venues were not available.

“Either the pitches were unplayable or the prospective hosts were playing in some other competition and were not in a position to manage the venue.”

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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