Another own goal for the FAI as board takes issue with interim CEO's comments

FAI once more finds itself embroiled in a bad-tempered dispute of its own making
Another own goal for the FAI as board takes issue with interim CEO's comments
IN THE FIRING LINE: Gary Owens, FAI Interim Chief Executive

One step forward, another lurch backwards. On it goes for the FAI which once more finds itself embroiled in a bad-tempered dispute of its own making. It is truly the organisation that could start an argument in an empty room.

How ironic that this latest contretemps should arise out of a two-hour media briefing by interim CEO Gary Owens on Wednesday, the very purpose of which was to calm the waters and get everyone on board and paddling their canoes in the one direction on such a crucial week.

The nub of this one is the claim by Owens that Fianna Fail TD Marc MacSharry was wrong in his assertion that the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the FAI, government and Bank of Ireland in January, which greenlit a do-or-die financial rescue package for the footballing body, had been signed without being discussed at a board meeting earlier in the day.

Not so say the eight board members who released a statement through their own channels to that very effect late on Wednesday night.

"The Elected Directors of the FAI are alarmed at a statement made during a press conference on the 5th August 2020 by the Interim CEO, Gary Owens.

"During the press conference, Mr Owens refuted a claim made by Fianna Fáil Deputy Marc MacSharry that a MoU with Government was signed on 30 January 2020 without it being discussed at a board meeting earlier that day,” it read.

"Mr Owens went onto claim that, “The board members had the opportunity to review what the terms and conditions were, and they did sign off on it. They didn’t sign off on it afterwards, they signed off on it beforehand. [Marc MacSharry] is wrong on that.

"The Elected Directors wish to state on the record that they did not approve the MoU before it was signed, therefore Mr MacSharry’s statement is correct.

"The facts are that they only received a draft copy of the MoU at 9.02am on the 30th January and immediately raised concerns regarding some of the conditions with the Chairman and received no reply.

"The Elected Directors listed below are calling on the interim CEO to immediately clarify his remarks.

The statement was signed by all eight football directors, namely Paul Cooke, John Finnegan, Martin Heraghty, David Moran, Gerry McAnaney, Joe O’Brien, Richard Shakespeare, and Ursula Scully.

The timing of all this could hardly be worse.

The FAI's National Council will sit in a specially convened meeting at the Red Cow Hotel on Friday evening to discuss the governance reforms as called for in the MoU. An EGM to decide on them is due on August 31.

Owens, sitting alongside his interim deputy CEO Niall Quinn on Wednesday morning, went all out to pacify and prepare their organisation for this big few weeks via long discussions and explanations about the changes due to the Council and the board as called for in the MoU.

Their answers, even aside from this one on what the board did or didn't know before the MoU was signed, weren't always perfect but it appeared on leaving Abbotstsown that they might have done enough to mollify at least some of the sceptics.

The root of much of the opposition to the reforms has been a fear that control of the FAI would slip out of the organisation's hands due to the call for a board that would consist of six football directors and another six independents rather than an 8-4 split.

With Roy Barrett an independent chairman that appeared to leave the football fraternity outgunned going forward but Owens stressed that it was within the remit of the AGM to hand the casting vote back to the FAI president should they see fit. That was a major clarification.

He also stressed that it is the AGM and thus the members themselves who will remain the supreme legislative body in the FAI, regardless of any of the proposed reforms, while there was some comfort for the Council itself.

An initial stipulation that Council members would have to step down on completion of a ten-year term has been replaced by a process which would involve a fit and proper test, an assessment that there is no conflict of interest and another addressing what skillsests candidates possess.

Pass that, we were told, and Council members could stay on beyond the one decade. That this part of the MoU could be tweaked and not the six-six board split was not adequately explained but it did at least offer some succour to the rank and file Council members and some on the board.

All that PR work has been sullied by this latest conflagration but it had been smouldering.

McAnaney, board member and FAI president, spoke to Zoran Lakovic, Uefa's director of national associations, early last month when the thorny issue of the rescue package and the Memorandum was raised. Cooke, the FAI vice-president and another of the board members, was also on the meeting.

One of the last questions Owens faced on Wednesday on the subject of the MoU and the need to push these reforms through at the EGM was whether the likes of McAnaney and Cooke were now “on board” with the idea of the '6 + 6' split of directors on the board.

“I would say they are supporting the roadmap we are now on,” came the carefully framed response.

Hours later and two the FAI's constituent parties were once again crashing in to each other.

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