In a year of dramatic and often punishing developments, the FAI face another high noon date today when they finally and belatedly publish their deferred 2018 accounts.
Paul Cooke, newly installed as Executive Lead – effectively now the Association’s acting CEO – gave ample warning at October’s AGM that the figures “won’t be pretty and will shock people”.
Ahead of today’s scheduled press conference, and only adding to the sense of deep financial crisis at the FAI, yesterday saw the announcement that next year the Association will lose its flagship sponsor Three, marking the end of a deal which the company says has seen it invest €30 million in Irish football over the past 10 years.
Partners with the FAI since 2010, Three had signed an extension to the deal in 2015 to run through until 2020. As primary sponsors of the national team, their logo is emblazoned on the new Irish strip which was only recently unveiled.
Following the eruption of the controversy over governance and finances which has engulfed the FAI since March, Three had already flagged their concerns, saying in April that they regarded good corporate governance as being of the “utmost importance” and that it expected the same standards of corporate governance “from all partners we work with”.
However, there was no reference to the problems at the FAI yesterday when, in a statement announcing that they would not be renewing their sponsorship when the deal expires in July, Three’s Chief Commercial Officer Elaine Carey said:
“Having recently reviewed our full sponsorship portfolio, we have decided to consolidate our sponsorship investment in the area of music.
At Three, we are entirely focused on supporting the Irish Men’s team through what we hope will be an exciting and successful qualification for the UEFA European Football Championship and the Irish Women’s team in their qualification journey for the UEFA Women’s European Championship.
"We also wish the Irish teams at every level the very best in the future.”
In their response, the FAI did their best to face the music and dance, with president Donal Conway thanking the company for their backing as “Ireland’s number one supporter” and saying that the FAI were “looking forward to a successful eight months ahead with Three on board as we countdown to the Euro play-offs in March and the Euro 2020 games in Dublin next summer.”
In normal circumstances, confirmation from UEFA yesterday that VAR will be employed for those play-off games, would have warranted bigger headlines, but the gravity of the FAI’s situation means few in Irish football – and not least worried staff in Abbotstown - can see beyond today’s publication of the accounts, which will not only reveal the full extent of the organisation’s indebtedness, now believed to be in excess of €50 million, but also confirm details of the exit package agreed with former CEO John Delaney when he left the organisation in September.
Meanwhile, Sport Minister Shane Ross did little to thaw relations with the FAI yesterday when he said that “innocent players” should not have to pay for “the mistakes of the FAI top brass”. He was welcoming the news that Sport Ireland have approved payment of 2019 grant funding worth €195,000 to the women’s national team but with the significant proviso that disbursement of the money will be overseen, not by the FAI, but the accountancy and business advisory firm BDO.
In a statement, the Minister said: “I am very pleased that we can now confirm the payment of the 2019 grant for the Women’s National Football Team and that a process has been put in place which will ensure that there is full accountability in relation to this funding.
There is no reason why the mistakes of the FAI top brass should be borne by innocent players.
It has been made clear that Sport Ireland will make the payment directly to BDO and that no funding will be provided to FAI bank accounts either directly from Sport Ireland or indirectly via BDO.
The grant programme is also fully independent of any other funding to the FAI by Sport Ireland which currently remains suspended.
Unusually, the statement from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport also carried a response from internationals Jamie Finn and Niamh Reid Burke who were jointly quoted as saying: “On behalf of the Ireland players, we thank Sport Ireland for their support and look forward to the remaining qualifiers.”