FAI president Donal Conway has conceded that it could now be 2030 or even later before the FAI can hope to be debt-free. In recent years, it had been a recurring mantra of former CEO John Delaney that the €29m Aviva Stadium debt could be cleared by 2020 if the association so decided.
But answering questions from the media following the launch of the Governance Review Group Report yesterday, Conway underlined, in stark terms, the changed circumstances which now prevail for the crisis-hit body.
“Well, certainly you’re right, it won’t be debt free by 2020,” he said. “We will decide on what is the most appropriate term to run out the remaining debt on the stadium. It could be pushed out 10 years and further.”
The FAI are currently working on a new financial plan which is expected to be finalised in the next two weeks and which comes against the backdrop of fears of potential cutbacks and job losses in the organisation.
“I referenced that matter with staff this morning,” said Conway. “We are a lot of the way through devising a new financial plan, one that I would suggest would be a more sustainable financial plan. We are doing that in tandem with Uefa. That’s not yet complete.
"There are a number of partners to this. I’m not really going to talk about that until the financial plan is finalised. We’ve put an enormous amount of work into that over the past couple of weeks and we are getting to the final stage.”
The Governance Review Group Report has proposed the setting up of an interim FAI board for a period of 12 months and recommends that a maximum of two of the current board, now reduced to seven members, should stay on to help with the transition.
While Donal Conway said he would discuss with his fellow directors whether he might have a role to play on the interim board, he left no-one in any doubt that his days as a full-term president are numbered.
“I was elected in August for a four-year presidency,” he said. “When this crisis broke, that was completely gone. This has nothing to do with anybody else. I made my mind up at that stage: Yes, I am culpable, yes, I was part of this board and that I would never serve that presidency.
“For example, in my case, could I bring any added value to that interim board given the action plan it has ahead of it? That’s what I have to consider. My presidency is finished. I won’t be doing four years as president and I never intended doing that after these issues broke.”
However, he said he feels he does retain the credibility to sell the reform package to the FAI’s electorate, two-thirds of whom will be required to vote in its favour if it is to be adopted at next month’s AGM.
“I know the membership,” he said. “So can you serve any useful purpose in terms of promoting reform, in terms of working for the adoption of this document? My assessment is that I can. I’ve already been engaged with members on this and pushing very strongly for it. Credibility: the point is very valid. Who sits in front of them? What credibility do they have? I feel I do have the credibility to sit in front of them and recommend this report.”
Citing urgent issues such as the need to unlock suspended Sports Ireland funding and the ongoing concerns of sponsors, Conway said: “I would be very seriously concerned for the FAI if this report is rejected.”
He also suggested that the report showcases precisely the kind of reform which football’s European and world governing bodies want to see implemented.
“This moves towards, and in some cases past, what Uefa and Fifa demand in terms of governance of one of its member associations,” he said. “That will also be fed into the kind of presentation we give to members.
“If you think about it, Fifa and Uefa provide, in any one year, 20-25% of our funding. That is not to diminish the funding we get from Sport Ireland, but that’s in the 5% place. When you talk about Fifa and Uefa, and sources of funding, you’re talking about something that is so much more significant. They will want to see this adopted.”
Conway added that places had been offered to Fifa and Uefa on the report’s Implementation Oversight Group.
“We offered to Fifa/Uefa the opportunity to put someone on that, if they so wish,” he said. “Because Fifa in particular have shown a serious interest in what we’re doing and certainly Fifa — I’m not sure about Uefa — will be at our AGM on the 27th [of July].”