A return of the League of Ireland remains in doubt after it emerged yesterday that the FAI’s financial package, believed to total €1.7m, included as well as scheduled Uefa solidarity payments, a proposal that last year’s top four finishers — Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Derry — would contribute €100,000 each from their European prize money.
Following a meeting with the FAI last night, the clubs agreed to consider the request over the weekend. It’s believed an alternative suggestion is that the planned mini-tournament involving the four clubs might be scrapped and the budget for hosting it be made available instead to the League fund.
Premier Division and First Division clubs will also hold separate meetings with the FAI today at which they are expecting to receive more detail about the financial package.
Last night in the Dáil, Shane Ross, the Minister for Sport, held out the possibility of further Government support for a league which has been hit hard by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Acknowledging that the sports sector will need additional help,
he said: “Discussions are under way, but not yet concluded. The details will need to be worked on and we will liaise closely with the sector. Not all sports organisations have been affected to the same extent. The most acutely affected are those with summer seasons and with a heavy reliance on gate receipts. A targeted and focused response is clearly appropriate in these circumstances.”
Asked by Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews if he could reassure League of Ireland clubs that they won’t be allowed go out of business, the minister replied:
“The recovery plan is not in place yet, but I would be absolutely amazed if the League of Ireland was not part of that, as it’s part of so many communities and is more than just football clubs. As long as I’m in this office, which might not be very long, I assure you I will push for that.”
Corporate governance at the FAI was also back in the spotlight yesterday as two high-profile League of Ireland delegates on senior council continued to seek answers around the association’s finances and reform agenda.
The correspondence from Shelbourne co-owner Andrew Doyle and Cabinteely chairman Larry Bass follows a fortnight after Nixon Morton lodged a letter of complaint to Uefa and Fifa.
Doyle and Bass were elected to the FAI’s finance committee on October 25, and are aggrieved that the new forum has not convened almost nine months on, a period in which significant financial decisions, such as the state’s bailout package and refinancing deal with Bank of Ireland, have been made.
In an email to FAI chairman Roy Barrett a week ago, Doyle contends a formal complaint detailing “material governance issues” submitted on March 17, the week football was suspended due to Covid-19, went unanswered.
Last month, Seán Brodie, a partner with PWC, quit the FAI’s audit risk and compliance committee, listing a “lack of progress” among his reasons.
Establishing the new committees formed part of the Governance Review Group (GRG) recommendations enshrined by members into the FAI rule book in July 2019. They have yet to be fully populated.
Doyle claims he and Bass have been asking “important questions” since January 25, receiving “no financial information whatsoever” nor “have the necessary finance committee meetings taken place.” For the FAI’s part, as a board they responded to a series of specific questions on May 11, yet the complainants argue that many remain unanswered and some replies “only serve to beg other questions”.
Also contained in the missive are questions surrounding the recruitment process, salaries and value for money of interim CEO Gary Owens and his deputy, Niall Quinn. Both were headhunted in January within a fortnight of fellow Visionary Group member Barrett becoming the association’s first-ever non-executive chairman.
In the Dáil last night, Ross rejected as “absurd” the “suggestion that there is some overlap or some association between the old and the new board of the FAI”.
We must be aware of the fact that there are people in the FAI still trying to delay the reforms and I’m absolutely determined that that should not happen.
On the subject of the League of Ireland, he said: “The current board of the FAI and the changing regime there is very supportive and more sympathetic to the League of Ireland than the last regime was. Although it doesn’t have the resources to do what it would like to do, it certainly has political support.
“When Deputy [Brendan] Griffin and I met the League of Ireland, it was quite apparent that they represented the beating heart of Irish football but also communities. They are too important to ignore or let go or in any way not support and I’m very hopeful.
“I don’t know the result of their meeting this evening. It may have been rather difficult as there is constantly a funding problem. But I have absolutely no doubt there is goodwill there. There is a great deal more goodwill than there was under the old regime.
“I think the break in regime will help. I think funding will be a problem but I do believe we are very supportive of the League of Ireland.”