Uefa launch measures to prevent ‘something like Ireland’ happening again

A senior Uefa source told the Irish Examiner that the organisation accepts that it had “dropped the ball with Ireland” by not realising the true extent of the debts amassed by the FAI
Uefa launch measures to prevent ‘something like Ireland’ happening again

In December 2019 investigators revealed the misreporting of liabilities at the FAI by approximately €40m for 2017, along with debts uncovered of €55m for the following financial year. Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Uefa has introduced tighter financial measures across European football, arising from the near-collapse of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).

Europe’s governing body has issued stringent directives in how national associations must report their finances in future, with changes in place to ensure that federations can no longer misreport financial affairs as happened in Dublin.

Uefa has also introduced a ‘Finance Essentials’ education programme, which CEOs, finance directors, and board members have been invited to attend — to learn the basics of financial management.

A senior Uefa source told the Irish Examiner that the organisation accepts that it had “dropped the ball with Ireland” by not realising the true extent of the debts amassed by the FAI, which were misreported by the association.

Uefa was rocked when it was revealed, two years ago this week, that the FAI was close to insolvency — a situation which occurred under the watch of ‘one of its own’ — Uefa executive committee member John Delaney.

In December 2019 investigators revealed the misreporting of liabilities at the FAI by approximately €40m for 2017, along with debts uncovered of €55m for the following financial year.

The Uefa ‘Financial Management Programme’ was developed as a direct response to what had occurred in Abbotstown “with the aim of raising standards through greater accountability and transparency”.

The key technical changes occur in how members audit their finances and how they are to be reported and disclosed to Uefa at its HQ in Nyon, Switzerland.

A Uefa source told the Irish Examiner: “There are still a number of rogue federations operating, and the new measures will help identify who the other Irelands are out there.”

Oversight of the financial declarations by all 55 member associations is currently being rolled out across Europe, with “most” countries expected to be on board by the end of next year, at the earliest. However, due to the nature of Uefa — as a membership organisation — it is cautious about issuing absolute deadlines to autonomous associations, particularly the small number which are currently “unenthusiastic” about declaring all financial details.

While not yet viewed as a major issue in Nyon, there is growing concern that those members which have not yet signed up to the new financial reporting mechanism may threaten the overall creditability of the programme.

The FAI, along with all UK federations, have fully endorsed the new measures, which include the re-education programme for board members, CEOs, and finance directors.

All associations’ senior decision-makers have been invited to enrol in the ‘Finance Essentials’ series of educational courses.

In a message to members, Uefa described the education programmes as “five-day financial management compact courses”.

The first two modules have been completed, with attendance reported for at least one of the courses as “very strong from most federations”.

“The course is for general secretaries (CEOs) and board members who wished to gain a deeper understanding of financial management,” says Uefa, with financial directors since being included. The FAI has confirmed that directors have undertaken the UEFA financial course.

Say UEFA: “The course is focused on key areas of the financial management cycle, including governance, liquidity planning, KPIs, and managing reserves.”

Such skills are no longer being taken for granted due to what happened in Ireland, where a board of directors had no oversight of finances at the FAI — a discovery which Uefa insiders described as “wholly unbelievable and incredible”.

Under questioning at an Oireachtas Committee hearing in 2019, honorary treasurer Eddie Murray stated that the FAI had one bank account — he was then informed that the number was 24.

Despite the possibility of repeat situations occurring at other associations, Uefa is cautious about stiffly implementing an obligation to attend the re-education programme, “due to embarrassment or shame” according to the Uefa source.

The Financial Management Programme was developed in March last year by former Aberdeen CEO Duncan Fraser, and is being overseen by Uefa finance director Josef Koller.

Duncan Fraser was tasked with devising the new structure within weeks of the then-executive lead of the FAI Paul Cooke revealing in 2019 that he had been “shocked” at what he discovered when the finances were interrogated by incoming investigators.

Cooke revealed how in one instance it was discovered that the association had reported net liabilities and losses for 2017 of €21.1m, when the reality was a debt of €57m.

The now vice-president of the FAI was a central strategist, along with Fraser, in the creation of the new Uefa financial pillar, and his learnings and discoveries from the wreckage of the FAI are key to its make-up.

A second Uefa source said: “The discoveries in Ireland showed us how exposed we were to mismanagement by other federations.

“While what happened in Ireland was hugely regrettable — it did happen.

“The important thing is that we learned from that and we have taken very direct steps in preventing something like Ireland happening again.”

There is also deep discomfort in Nyon at how the FAI is effectively now under the ownership of the Irish Government — Uefa and Fifa object to any state interference in member associations.

The Department of Sport and its statutory body, Sport Ireland, are the key shareholders of the FAI through Irish Government funding of €30m.

When asked for an official position in relation to the changes in financial management, Uefa did not comment.

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