The FAI’s executive lead Paul Cooke tonight refused to deny a claim by Sports Minister Shane Ross that the association have sought a bailout of over €10m.
Although Cooke described a meeting with at Government Buildings as constructive, he doesn’t know how their bid to finance mounting debts will unravel. For the first time since controversy engulfed the organisation in March, the Sports Minister sat down with the FAI hierarchy tonight.
He, along with junior minister Brendan Griffin, welcomed the six new directors elected at the annual general meeting in July, including vice-president Cooke, who has been double-jobbing on a voluntary basis since the start of the month.
“It was a good, constructive meeting,” said Cooke after he left Leinster House for a debrief with his fellow directors at the nearby Buswell’s Hotel. “We will engage again with the minister and the Department of Sport as we agree on the next steps.”
As it stands, the FAI are burdened with liabilities of up to €70m and have just lost their main sponsor, mobile communications firm Three. State funding remains frozen. Uefa have been supplying emergency finance throughout the year to meet cashflow commitments but the FAI require a financial institution for a more medium to long-term solution.
They have already agreed to extend their €29m mortgage on Lansdowne Road until 2034 but to survive operationally and minimise job losses, a consolidated package is essential.
The challenge facing the FAI is to procure a guarantor for that deal, given the precarious nature of their finances. The European governing body Uefa are thought to be reluctant to provide such an assurance.
A difficult task for Mick McCarthy to navigate through the play-offs for next summer’s Euro 2020 adds to the uncertainty. The FAI would gross €9.25m for reaching a third successive European finals. Following the 90-minute meeting tonight, Ross dismissed a bailout being offered.
He did, however, confirm they would be contacting Uefa to assess options for the FAI amid their deepening crisis.
“The Government cannot provide direct financial support or a bailout to the FAI in any circumstance,” said Ross, who suspended government grants to the FAI in April as corporate governance concerns spiked.
It was very tense meeting because the FAI are in a very grave and dark place. They were looking for support from the Government, which we were unable to give them. That, in other words, is financial support.
When pressed afterwards by RTÉ, Ross confirmed the sum sought by the FAI was over €10m. Cooke refused to comment on a figure.
Ross added: “We will be seeking an early meeting with Uefa in the coming days to intensify the search for a solution to the deep problems inflicted on the FAI.”
With the FAI fighting for survival, wholly dependent on external parties to avoid their upheaval prolonging, Ross holds the whip hand in demanding reforms. He’s already got his way through the resignations of Donal Conway and John Earley.
They were the final pair of directors in place from the era of John Delaney and despite being re-elected at the AGM in July bowed to pressure over the last fortnight.
It also appears that any council member with historical connections to Delaney will not be accepted on the board by Ross. Paddy Dempsey, chairman of the Dublin District Schoolboys’ League, performed a u-turn over the weekend. He was proposed by the Schoolboys FAI (SFAI) but changed his mind just as concerns were being raised about a statement of support for Delaney published by the league in March when the pressure stated to heap on his position.
Cooke, however, indicated that the FAI alone would process nominees for their board.
“I think that’s up to the members to decide at an AGM, whether anybody has a part to play,” he said.
There will be vacancies available at their reconvened AGM on December 29 and EGM four weeks later to replace Conway and Earley. Four independent directors, including a chairperson, have yet to be appointed to compete the 12-person top table.
Ross and Sport Ireland are due before the Oireachtas Committee for Sport tomorrow but the FAI refused to confirm whether they would be attending.