FAI’s perilous state casts doubt on Irish football future

Another day, and another battering of the FAI’s reputation — but this today's pummelling in Leinster House could prove the tipping point for its survival prospects.

FAI’s perilous state casts doubt on Irish football future

Another day, and another battering of the FAI’s reputation — but this today’s pummelling in Leinster House could prove the tipping point for its survival prospects.

And while representatives chose to stay away from the sitting of the Oireachtas committee for sport, travel and tourism, the soundings coming out of Kildare St were grim. Crucial additional pieces of information were supplied to the committee by each of the two ministers present.

After sports minister Shane Ross confirmed the FAI sought an €18m State bailout at Tuesday’s crisis talks, his junior Brendan Griffin outlined how the association was €63m in debt.

That figure had been cited by the Irish Examiner on the day when the FAI accounts were released last Friday week. The liabilities referenced that afternoon, €55m, were only calculated up to the end of December 2018.

Last night, the FAI were forced to break their silence — claiming the comments of Ross and Griffin “made efforts to secure the financial future of the FAI all the more difficult.”

Paul Cooke, the FAI’s executive lead, accused the pair of breaching confidentiality and rejected an assertion by Ross that the business plan presented as their rescue remedy wasn’t “credible”.

He added: “The board, management, and staff at the FAI are working hard to avoid an insolvency process. We know better than anyone the consequences that would have on our international teams, the League of Ireland and the hundreds of thousands who play football up and down the country every weekend.”

Since the controversy sparked in March following revelations of former CEO John Delaney’s infamous €100,000 loan, the financial fallout has triggered emergency funding from Uefa.

Sponsorship has also been affected. The FAI’s main commercial partner Three has already announced that it will not renew its sponsorship deal their deal with the FAI, while League of Ireland sponsor SSE Airtricity last week cast doubt on whether they’ll stay on board after next year

Uefa distributes around €10m per year to member associations from a centralised television deal, but the FAI had drawn down €6.5m in advance during 2018. Other money streams, not just from the television pot but Uefa ‘hat-trick’ funding, have been called in much earlier than they were due.

The FAI will be charged interest between 3% and 4% up to next June. The association would gladly accept those credit terms on the bigger refinancing package currently being worked upon. Bank of Ireland is owed €29m on the Lansdowne Road stadium mortgage, but other creditors could end up being consolidated into a broader deal.

Cooke last night confirmed that the four independent directors are unlikely to join the interim board until this package is completed. But, as Ross reiterated today, it will be Uefa, and not the State, providing the guarantor pledge on the borrowings. There is no certainty that the European body will agree to that protection when Ross finally meets them on January 15.

For the first time in a public forum, the dire ramifications of that deal failing to materialise. Liquidation and examinership were floated as possibilities. To avoid such a scenario, the FAI might have to revisit the notion of selling their stake in the stadium.

Ross explained he had set up a meeting with the other partner in the venture, the IRFU, to tease that doomsday option out. Ultimately, it will be the FAI board deciding on the solution and, thankfully at least, it appears they’ll be allowed to do their duties.

Objections by Ross to the continuance of two survivors from the Delaney era, Donal Conway and John Earley, as directors eventually led to both agreeing to quit. Both of those board members will be replaced by next month’s EGM.

Griffin said he had no issue with the present six directors, all elected in July, before offering a caveat that any subsequent controversies could alter that endorsement. Meanwhile, the very survival of the League of Ireland’s future was called into question at the sitting, though the ministers last night clarified his comments.

“The ministers understand that the insolvency of a national football federation in Europe would be an unprecedented situation and thus it is not completely clear what implications this would have for the relevant national league and consequently international teams,” they said.

“It is the understanding of the department of sport that if the national association failed, the league would be impacted, ceasing to exist in its current format.

“However, we understand that League of Ireland clubs would be in a position to rebound quickly and fulfil fixtures. In that case, it would avoid a scenario where national teams would be precluded from international competition, provided a replacement national federation would be in place.

“The ministers are seeking to clarify this matter with Uefa in advance of their upcoming meeting next month. The ministers have asked Sport Ireland to arrange meeting with League of Ireland clubs and players in advance of the meeting with Uefa to hear their concerns.”

Both the Premier Clubs Alliance and the Players Football Association of Ireland last night welcomed the invitation to meet.

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