Robert Watt’s diplomacy skills to come under microscope in new FAI role

Robert Watt’s diplomacy skills to come under microscope in new FAI role

Robert Watt: Completes the new board as the fourth independent director. Picture: Oireachtas TV/PA

Robert Watt’s famous diplomacy skills will be needed when he enters a fractured FAI boardroom as the last of 12 directors appointed since the association’s upheaval began last year.

John Delaney’s exit was supposed to trigger a new era and, despite the subsequent Governance Review Group (GRP) report introducing much-needed independence, rancour wasn’t long in arriving.

Watt, widely regarded the most important department figurehead as secretary general of public expenditure and reform, completes the new board as the fourth independent director.

The first three were nominated in January — Liz Joyce and Catherine Guy, along with chairman Roy Barrett.

Under the GRG recommendations, that was to be the extent of external expertise, aiding the eight directors elected through football channels, yet a pact struck between Barrett and then Sports Minister Shane Ross in January linked to the State’s rescue package shifted the goalposts.

Their agreement to split the board evenly between football and independent directors, with Barrett holding the casting vote, is a source of friction.

So far, the Government have refused to budge on the terms contained in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), contending grants will remain suspended until the reforms are passed by members at an EGM.

The appointment of a senior civil servant in Watt is expected only to copperfasten that stance.

The Dubliner was the State’s hard-nosed negotiator in Brexit and Troika talks, holding the purse strings when resources scarcened in the aftermath of the property crash.

That status as department head for the last nine years convinced Ross that the elevation of Watt back in January could trigger suspicions of conflict, a claim the newcomer rejects.

Regardless, Ross is only three weeks out of office and the candidate tipped for the final independent berth has finally been green-lighted by the FAI’s nominations committee.

“I look forward to working closely with Robert on the fully constituted Board as we work together to restore stakeholder confidence in Irish football,” said FAI president Gerry McAnaney.

The Cork native, only elected in January, is already in the firing line under the updated reform proposals.

As a member on senior FAI Council for more than 10 years, he and 27 others are set to be “retired” once the EGM carries the motions.

Unfortunately for Barrett, and now Watt, approval levels won’t get anywhere near the 75% of delegates required for them to pass.

Already, 47 of the 79 Council members have petitioned the president to convene an emergency meeting to discuss what the originator, James Kelly, fears will lead to Irish football “losing its sovereignty”.

That meeting cannot be held indoors until the country enters phase four of lockdown lifting on August 10.

Meanwhile, the FAI board will shortly write to Uefa relaying a message from their top-flight clubs to explore the concept of an All-Island League. Late on Monday night, every Premier Division club put their name to a letter requesting interim chief executive Gary Owens to initiate contact with the European governing body.

Bohemians were the first club out public yesterday to declare the All-Island League is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for Irish football.

A similar letter was issued last week by all bar two members of Northern Ireland’s Premier Division, meaning 20 of the 22 are in favour of pursuing the project.

Businessman Kieran Lucid, aided by a team of experts including Brian Kerr, have been driving the venture over the past two years.

Assisted by Dutch company Hypercube, they have devised a format whereby both the FAI and Irish FA contest two series of games (22 fixtures) within their own leagues before a split funnelling the top eight from the south and six from north into a 14-team ‘Golden Round’.

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