FAI must reform to access State funding

The Department of Sport have reaffirmed the obligation on the FAI to implement governance reforms by next month for State funding to be reinstated.
FAI must reform to access State funding

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross

The Department of Sport have reaffirmed the obligation on the FAI to implement governance reforms by next month for State funding to be reinstated.

In January, as the embattled Association faced financial abyss, newly-appointed FAI chairman Roy Barrett signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) affording access to €35m over four years in exchange for far-reaching changes at committee level.

Rule changes at an EGM are necessary to alter the structures of the FAI senior council and board.

Although Covid-19 has prevented this summit from being convened, recent disquiet among delegates and, in particular, a letter from council member Nixon Morton to Fifa has raised doubts about the association attaining the requisite two-thirds majority from voters.

FAI interim chief executive Gary Owens and his deputy Niall Quinn have been steadfast in their conviction that the MOU attached to the bailout cannot be renegotiated.

Last night, the Department of Sport, currently led by outgoing Minister Shane Ross, confirmed no developments since January, such the coronavirus, have allowed the July deadline for enactment to be pushed out.

"There is no change to the MOU; the position is still the same,” said a Department spokesperson.

That stance means that the FAI have seven weeks to update their rule book or risk losing vital State aid at a time they are facing significant lost revenues through internationals being held for the foreseeable future without fans.

As it stands, an EGM in conjunction with the scheduled AGM in Galway on July 25 could be called, yet the notion of assembling 206 delegates into a conference room is considered a non-runner, even factoring in the latest phase of lockdown easing five days earlier.

Neither is it considered appropriate for the FAI to replicate the postal vote method forced upon them for ratifying the bank refinancing deal in March.

Far more debate is expected in this instance, raising the prospect of a major venue nearer to Dublin being booked to stage the landmark summit.

The contentious amendments, highlighted by FAI Schools representative Morton in his letter, are two-fold; firstly, installing two additional independent directors to cede ultimate control from the football nominees and clearing out council members who’ve served more cumulative terms of 10 years.

Despite the latter change not affecting Morton until 2025, up to 30 others from the expanded council of 79 will be culled in the shake-up.

Ross reasons that the overhaul is overdue to transfuse football’s parent body with new blood from the controversial regime of deposed former chief executive John Delaney.

Should the council term limit pass, over half of the 58 council members who operated during the Delaney era will be swept out. Board members sourced from the football constituency must be current delegates on council.

President Gerry McAnaney and fellow director Richard Shakespeare are among the cohort with 10 years' service in the firing line. Another pair also only elected to the board last year, Paul Cooke and Joe O’Brien, well on their way to reaching the cutoff point.

They were in the usual position of discussing their own survival prospects at a virtual meeting of the 11 board members last night.

One of the four independent seats remains vacant almost a year after an EGM included the arrival of external recruits among the 78 Governance Review Group (GRP) recommendations they fully supported.

They also backed the council succession planning clause, purely on the basis that veterans were entitled to complete their stay within three years.

On the top floor in the Department of Sport in late January, one flick of the pen shortened their swansong to six months.

Moreover, all former board members were barred from ever again sitting on an FAI committee at any level.

The goalpost shifting manoeuvre rule also prevents former Delaney’s allies Dennis Cruise and John O’Regan from staying on council while ex-board members Mick Hanley, Jim McConnell and Paraic Treanor, along with former chair of the audit committee, Frances Smith, will be forced to retire next month.

Amid the euphoria of the FAI being rescued as an entity, sympathy for the blazers were scarce, yet reservations across council led to a secretive summit in a Dublin hotel in February.

Soon followed by a letter sent to Fifa by an anonymous group of ‘concerned council members’ claiming third-party influence, contrary to the world governing body’s strict statutes.

Fifa yesterday confirmed they were in receipt of the latest correspondence – Morton’s seven-page letter submitted last Thursday which also raised questions surrounding the recruitment of Owens and Quinn – and would reply to him in due course.

With Ross strident in his crusade to “excise the old guard of the FAI”, it appears it will take a swift government formation and appointment of his replacement in the sporting portfolio for this watertight MOU to be revisited.

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