FAI need not look far for a template of change

What a difference a day made this week.

Tuesday gave us light and transparency and a painstaking earnestness on the part of the Olympic Federation of Ireland to open their doors to the public.

Less than 24 hours later, we were back in the Dark Ages as the Football Association of Ireland filibustered its way through eight hours of parliamentary business in Kildare Street.

There was one point during Wednesday’s interminable and inglorious proceedings when it was put to the FAI that they could do worse than follow the path taken by what used to be the Olympic Council of Ireland for whom the name change on their headed notepaper has been just one among a catalogue of moves which have consigned the Pat Hickey era to the distant past.

All has changed and changed utterly for them... and in the blink of an eye.

Sarah Keane was voted in as the new president in February of 2017 and with her a new executive committee, which has transformed the organisation overnight.

That was plain to see again this week when they explained in forensic detail their ticketing arrangements for Tokyo 2020.

It was a tangled web of ticketing issues that caused the collapse of the old regime. Reports needed to be commissioned to untie the knots and for the truth to emerge.

So compare that with the scene three days ago when Jussi Viskar, CEO of Elämys Group, the company appointed as the OFI’s authorised ticket reseller, was on hand to answer whatever questions the Irish media had. Not just him, but Keane, OFI chief executive Peter Sherrard, and the Elämys representative, who will be on the ground here in Ireland in the run-up to the Games to ensure there will be no repeat of 2016, when athletes and their families fretted over tickets for key events in Brazil.

Keane is acutely aware of the need not just to do right, but to be seen to do right, given the issues she inherited when becoming head of the OFI.

She has declined the offer of a car from one sponsor, but asked that it be made available to the staff instead.

Her per diem from any international Olympic business is redirected to the OFI coffers for general use. Little things, but big in symbolism.

“We are trying to operate to a moral code here, as well as to a strictly legal code,” she said.

One of the justifications for Delaney’s new role as executive vice president of the FAI was that, as a member of the Uefa executive, he is in a unique position of influence when it comes to Irish football’s standing in the continental game.

This is at a point when the association is bidding to host a number of major tournaments.

Pat Hickey
Pat Hickey

No one has ever held a position of greater influence in the modern sports world than Hickey. He was the top Olympic administrator in Europe and a man who sat in on the biggest of decisions at a global level.

Yet, the association leadership that has emerged in his wake has made a far more inclusive, concerted and strategic push to win friends and influence people at home and abroad.

Developing an international relations strategy has been a key pillar in Keane’s groundwork.

The president is herself the chair of the European Olympic movement’s gender equality group and has been invited onto the global version.

David Harte, of the OFI’s athletes commission, is secretary of the European equivalent.

Sarah O’Shea, the honorary general secretary, and executive member Lochlann Walsh also sit on continental representative bodies.

The determination to avoid the mistakes of the past, when too much power was in one pair of hands, is clear.

National Olympic bodies are entitled to one business-class seat or two in economy for flights over six hours in duration.

The OFI opt for the latter, mindful that two heads are better than one in any committee room.

“So, from our perspective, we are trying to ensure it is about different people being active in different spaces,” Keane explained this week.

“We have also been engaging with different organisations and CEOs around their influence in their own international federations, so our relationship with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) is strong.”

Their own body is all the healthier for it.

None of this is rocket science. There is actually an element of, as Roy Keane might put it, praising the postman for delivering your mail.

Yet, these basic levels of openness and honesty were beyond the FAI this week and it’s worth noting that O’Shea and Sherrard were once senior FAI employees who are now helping to sweep the Irish Olympic movement clean.

It’s taken them all just two years to make a body that was considered broken into a living, breathing example of modern corporate governance.

There is no reason why that couldn’t — shouldn’t — be the FAI come 2021.

“We are now walking the walk, not just talking the talk,” said Keane.

The FAI? They can’t even manage the latter.

Shame on them.

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