by Greg Greenhalgh
Last week I attended the European Association for Sport Management annual conference in Dublin, Ireland, where I was presenting research I had completed with a colleague at Temple University. The conference was held at Aviva Stadium, home of Irish Football and Rugby. The setting was perfect for our presentation as Aviva Stadium is a very green (environmentally friendly) stadium and that was the focus of our presentation. While the conference was great, with networking and educational opportunities in abundance my favorite part of my trip happened outside of the conference.
Yes, I did go to the Guinness factory, and it was amazing. However, my favorite part of the trip came watching television. I know: I travelled 3,500 miles to watch TV. There was a program on about the athletes of Irish Gaelic sports. Ireland has a faction of sports:
football (different from soccer and American football), ladies football, hurling, camogie, handball, and rounders, which are quite unique. If this interests you at all, take a closer look here. The program I was watching essentially looked at the fitness level of a top level Gaelic footballer/hurler and compared that to the likes of professional soccer players in other parts of Europe. They tested this athlete’s speed, reaction time, VO2 Max, etc. The Gaelic hurler/footballer was found to be in peak physical condition, very similar to that of the best athletes in the world.
I left one thing out: Gaelic players, even those at the highest level, are completely amateur. They do not get paid anything to play their sport and they hold day-jobs. Croke Park, in Dublin, home of the Gaelic Athletic Association holds 82,300 people, which they often sell out. The TV program was debating whether or not these athletes should be paid for their services. A discussion later in my trip with a taxi driver informed me that players practice every day, typically early in the day before work and even those who played in the Hurling Championship the Saturday before I arrived were back at work on Monday. Imagine LeBron James arriving at his job at the post office the day after winning the NBA Championship.
This idea of pure amateurs at the highest level of their sport, not representing their country at the Olympics, is bizarre for a North American. We have started paying some of our collegiate athletes and yet there are athletes who embody everything that is a professional athlete, yet they are completely amateur. This whole idea reminded me why I enjoy traveling and learning about sport in other countries so much. Any CSL alum who went on the European Model of Sport trip knows what I am talking about. These trips typically provide an opportunity to step back and look at what we do in North America and how it may not always be the best. We can learn from the ways of others and enjoy really good beer when we are away. While I don’t necessarily see us adding a professional looking sport where the players are all amateur anytime soon, this is but one example of how sport is universal yet distinct. Global-mindedness is alive and well in the CSL and I am just glad that I am able to share my experiences with our students and the four people who have read this article to the end (thanks, Burton, LeCrom, Dwyer, and Mom!).
Dr. Greg Greenhalgh is the Director of Student Services and Outreach for the Center for Sport Leadership at VCU. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @Greg_Greenhalgh