The FAI’s Paul Cooke has starkly outlined how perilously close to the end game he believes the embattled association really is.
“We are in dangerous territory,” the executive lead said after yesterday’s reconvened AGM. “I mentioned liquidation earlier: We are heading damn close to the red zone.”
When asked if the FAI have the funds to pay wages until the end of January, Cooke declined to answer in the affirmative.
“As of today, we are engaged in discussions with everybody [about a rescue package] but if we saw there was no future, then as directors we have a decision to make,” he replied. “There are other creditors out there and we are incurring other liabilities and if we are not in a position to see ourselves as a going concern, we cannot continue.”
He accepted that, if a solution is not found, such a decision might have to be made in a matter of weeks.
”Correct. Correct. If we can’t see a future, where there is no future funding long-term, we will potentially be engaged in reckless trading.”
Detailing the potential consequences of the FAI’s liquidation for Irish football — which he called “the nuclear option” —Cooke said: “No international matches, certainly at a minimum, uncertainty over League of Ireland clubs’ participation in Europe. I think they are your most severe consequences. All our commercial contracts end.
“You’re going into awful territory that’s never been there before. I really don’t know what the import of that would be. Would we be out of UEFA for years if we went into liquidation? Again, I don’t know the answer. It’s a horrible thought.”
However, in a statement last night, Sport Minister Shane Ross indicated the Government would not countenance the prospect of the FAI going to the wall.
“In response to the events at the reconvened FAI AGM today, I wish to state that the Government does not see either liquidation or examinership as a viable option for the association or for Irish football,” he said. “Over the Christmas period Minister Brendan Griffin and I have been moving with other stakeholders to find a solution to the crisis that includes an acceleration in the pace of reform, the future of Government funding, above all, a more secure outlook for FAI staff and certainty that grassroots football does not suffer.
“A radical change in the FAI culture is essential to underpin other reforms. The long-awaited appointment of an independent chair and three other independent directors, expected in the very near future, should provide the necessary impetus for a new confidence in the reform process.
“In early January, Minister Griffin and I expect to meet Uefa, representatives of all League of Ireland clubs, spokespeople for the trades unions, directors of the FAI, and other stakeholders in pursuit of a solution that avoids liquidation or examinership but secures the future of Irish football.”
The meeting between the Government and Uefa is scheduled for January 14 but what the FAI really want to see happen is a round-table gathering of all the key parties. President Donal Conway, who will be stepping down on January 25, said: “I’ve been negotiating that with them for quite some time. Sport Ireland are receptive. Uefa is receptive. The Bank Of Ireland is receptive. So in meetings with those stakeholders, they’re certainly agreeable to that round table. The meeting on the 14th, as of now, is bilateral, between the Government and Uefa. But Uefa will meet other stakeholders while it’s in Dublin.”
The FAI’s most urgent goal is to secure a cash injection of €18m. “If we get the €18m, that would be used to bring creditors up to date and to put everything on a normalised business pattern,” said Cooke. “It’s to play catch-up with our creditors. We would also include paying any Revenue settlement and running the association for whatever period up to 2022/23 when we go cash positive.
“There’s one thing you need to remember here. While we’re looking for €18m, this is €18m that our plans show that we can pay back. That’s a key thing to remember. We have the income stream to pay it back. We’ll be able to pay it back from 2022/23, from whatever source it comes from.”
Cooke revealed that, since this year, the FAI currently pay interest only on their Aviva Stadium debt of €30m. “Part of the refinancing is that we will move to a normal mortgage and pay for your asset over its life,” he said.
If, as is feared, cuts are required as a consequence of the FAI’s new financial plan, Cooke said they would be first discussed with employees.
“We will tell the staff as soon as we can,” he said. “If this is dragging on longer, we will meet them. It’s their livelihoods and we need to keep them informed regularly. It might be a case that we can’t really say anything but we’ll talk to them. We need to keep people motivated. What our staff have gone through over the past year has been horrendous. How they’ve kept functioning I do not know.”
He also said he was mindful of the greater football family.
“How many people will play football next weekend? We have nearly 220,000 registered players. The League of Ireland kicks off in six weeks’ time, probably stronger than it was ever before. Look at Stephen Kenny with the U21 team. These are all positives. We have the Euros coming to Dublin in June and these are all positive, massive positives.
“That’s what we need to state, although I’m not trying to push things under the carpet about what went on. The Football Association needs to apologise — it caused it.
“Nobody else caused it — the Football Association caused it. But we have to move on with a new FAI, a new Irish football, and hopefully move on to a new era.”