FAI in limbo as John Foley won’t take up role

FAI in limbo as John Foley won’t take up role
The FAI's Abbotstown headquarters

The FAI has been left reeling by John Foley’s decision not to take up an agreed position as interim CEO at the organisation.

The latest blow to the Association’s efforts to extricate itself from crisis is believed to have come in the wake of Government opposition to his appointment.

Reacting to the development, Minister For Sport Shane Ross and Minister of State For Sport Brendan Ross intensified the pressure on the organisation by insisting that its next CEO should be “completely independent of any present or previous involvement with the FAI”.

Former Athletics Ireland chief executive Foley had links with the FAI as a member of the National League Executive Council, to which he was nominated by former CEO John Delaney in 2007.

Since the current crisis blew up last March, Shane Ross has repeatedly called for the FAI to make a complete break with its past and was an especially vocal critic of the appointment as short-term general manager of Noel Mooney, another figure with previous links to the association.

Ross also opposed the re-election, to his current role as interim president, of long-time board member Donal Conway.

Mooney, who would almost certainly have extended his stay with the FAI but for Government opposition, completed his six-month stint in Abbotstown, on secondment from Uefa, by attending the Euro 2020 draw in Bucharest on Saturday, and left in the understanding Foley would succeed him as interim CEO.

However, the FAI’s belief that the latter was what one source described as “the perfect fit” to help rebuild bridges with Government — and help clear the way for the restoration of State funding — appears not to have been one shared in Leinster House.

Having held productive meetings with FAI representatives over the past few weeks, Foley said yesterday that he had been “happy to help the organisation face the challenges ahead”.

In explaining his reasons for declining to take up the position, he said:

“Ultimately, it was clear the support for my appointment across key stakeholders was not at the level required for me to succeed on delivering on the huge challenges to be faced by the Association in the coming months.”

Foley, whose appointment had the backing of both Sport Ireland and the FAI, had been due to officially begin work by addressing staff in Abbotstown at 10am this morning but, instead, a scheduled board meeting later in the day — at which the long-delayed publication of the 2018 accounts was on the agenda — found itself grappling with the repercussions of his shock decision to turn down the job.

Following that lengthy meeting, it emerged last night the FAI plan to publish the deferred accounts on Thursday when they will hold a press conference at which latest developments will be addressed.

In a statement announcing his decision, Foley said: “I was approached by the FAI and was pleased to consider bringing my experience in business and sport to the Association for a short period as interim CEO while a permanent CEO is being recruited.

I had a number of meetings and discussions with FAI representatives over the past number of weeks and was happy to help the organisation face the challenges ahead.

“I also know that the FAI has a wide range of key stakeholders who contribute to the running of the game and the financial well-being of the Association and that full support of these stakeholders is vital.

“Ultimately, it was not clear that the support for my appointment across key stakeholders was at the level required for me to succeed on delivering on the huge challenges to be faced by the Association in the coming months.

“Therefore I have decided not to take up the role of Interim CEO. I wish the staff, board, volunteers, and players at all levels every best wish for the future.”

In response, the FAI made little attempt to hide their dismay at the unexpected turn of events, noting “with regret” Foley’s decision to decline the role and saying that they believed his suitability was not only “beyond question” but that the “professionalism and clarity” he could bring to the Association would have been “invaluable”.

In their statement last night Ministers Ross and Griffin said that they believe the most urgent priority for the FAI now should be the appointment of the four independent directors who are needed to complete the new board, in line with the recommendations of the Governance Review Group Report which was made public in June.

“Thereafter, it is important the Board, under the leadership of the independent chairperson, moves quickly to fill the CEO vacancy,” the Ministers said.

“The FAI’s reform agenda needs to be strongly led in a manner that allows normality to return to football in Ireland as quickly as possible.

The restoration of Government funding can only follow such reform.

However, Abbotstown sources have contradicted a claim by Fergus O’Dowd TD, Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, that the FAI is already in possession of the name of a recommended independent chairperson who would be one of the four new directors appointed to the board.

“They have a name for some weeks now,” O’Dowd told RTE News, “It’s time for their Nominations Committee to act immediately and put that person in the public domain, to have clear, decisive leadership.”

But sources within the FAI insist that, while the names of the proposed independent directors are known to Sport Ireland, they haven’t yet been put to the Nominations Committee or before the FAI board.

Also speaking on RTE News, FAI Council Member Stuart Gilhooley said that following on from the departure of Noel Mooney, Foley’s decision not to succeed him leaves the Association “rudderless”. Meanwhile last night Siptu and their FAI representatives requested an urgent meeting with Minister Ross.

“Morale among staff in the FAI is at an all-time low, with media reports of the possibility of up to 100 job losses causing great concern,” said Siptu organiser Denis Hynes.

The FAI’s annus horribilis

March 16: John Delaney’s failure in the High Court to prevent The Sunday Times publishing details of a loan he gave his employers proves to be a watershed.

In an FAI statement that night, Delaney confirmed he supplied the €100,000 bridging loan to prevent a cashflow crisis in April 2017. Crucially, the CEO claimed he kept fellow FAI board members aware at all times.

March 19: Sport Ireland, the agency responsible for allocating Government grants, raises concerns over the issue by seeking clarification for the loan.

March 23: Delaney’s role is switched to a new position of executive vice-president within an hour of Ireland’s opening Euro 2020 qualifier in Gibraltar.

The FAI contends the decision was on the back of a report by management consultant Jonathan Hall, but within 24 hours, further media revelations of him receiving an annual rent allowance of €36,000 heaps pressure on the association.

March 26: The FAI board meet without Delaney and decide to engage auditing firm Mazars to conduct an investigation into terms and conditions, including credit card details of key personnel. That night at Lansdowne Road, fans protest by throwing tennis balls on the pitch 33 minutes into the qualifier against Georgia. A decade earlier, Delaney had requested Fifa to include Ireland in the World Cup as the ‘33rd team’.

April 3: Sport Ireland confirms to the Oireachtas committee for sport, tourism, and transport that the FAI had failed to adequately explain the €100,000 transaction. A suspension of the State funds, including the second half of annual €2.9m grant towards paying development officers’ salaries, follows within days.

April 8: The perceived unflinching support of the board towards Delaney is under threatin doubt. “Some recent comments made by the FAI did not accurately reflect the board’s level of awareness of the existence of the €100,000 issue in 2017,” states President Donal Conway.

April 10: A seminal day for the FAI as their appearance before the same Oireachtas committee ends in disaster. Delaney refused to answer any questions, treasurer Eddie Murray thought only one bank account existed when there were, in fact, 25, and the full board were urged to quit by chairman Fergus O’Dowd.

April 15: Delaney is called before a board sub-committee to discuss his exit. Delaney remains in employment, but on gardening leave. Delaney’s credit card and company phone are returned.

April 15: Mr Conway informs the new FAI council that the Mazars report will be available in the next six weeks.

April 16: The day after Murray and honorary secretary Michael Cody quit the board, the rest vow to do so at the AGM in July. A complaint is lodged by their auditors Deloitte to the Company’s Office concerning a failure to keep proper financial records.

June 23: A Governance Review Group presents 78 recommendations, including an overhaul of the board to include four independent directors. Females should represent one third of the 12-person board by 2021. The changes are backed in an EGM in July after the powerful schoolboys’ section are assured of a place at the top table.

July 27: Donal Conway is re-elected at an AGM, along with schoolboys’ rep John Earley. Six new members are elected. Financial turmoil prevents the 2018 accounts from being presented.

September 28: Delaney’s 15-year employment is officially ended following settlement discussions.

September 30: Sport Ireland announces that their report by KOSI will be delayed pending receipt of Delaney’s severance package.

November 27: Sport Ireland refer KOSI report to Gardaí.

December 2: Just a day after interim CEO Noel Mooney returns to his job in Uefa, John Foley performs a last-minute u-turn and backs out of taking the CEO role.

- Compiled by John Fallon

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