FAI enters extra time to tackle gender balance targets

The FAI has a serious female problem; they simply don't have enough and now it's official.
FAI enters extra time to tackle gender balance targets

Roy Barrett in attendance at an FAI AGM at FAI HQ in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

The FAI has a serious female problem; they simply don't have enough and now it's official.

Although the volume of girls and women participating in the game remains in growth phase, convincing females to get involved in the parent body's committee structure is proving a struggle.

That's not an aspiration; rather an imperative bound by its constitution.

Unless the association meets their gender balance requirement of 40% female by next year, vital state funding is in jeopardy.

It's a stark state of play that was outlined to delegates of the General Assembly during Monday's virtual meeting, explaining why their board have been forced to shift their governance timeline by 12 months.

Once the FAI went cap in hand to the State in early 2020 for a bailout to survive, the reciprocal conditions were going to be steep.

Among the reform measures acceded to was not solely a committee overhaul but, within that, gender quotas cascading from board level throughout the organisation.

Two years on and progress has been painfully slow. While the board led by example in having three of their 12-person construct as female, Ursula Scully's unsuccessful punt at assuming the vice-president's place last year cost her a seat. The FAI have already failed to hit the target of 33% set for July 2021.

Two directors must somehow spike to five (40% of 12 is 4.8) to comply with their own rules and the demands of their paymasters in Leinster House.

If that wasn't concerning enough, the situation beneath is worse. The sort of oversight so abundantly absent in the previous regime was planned to be backboned by the formation of new business and football committees.

Enlivening words on a glossy report into reality was a different story, for only one of the five committees – the one allocated to the male and female national leagues – has so far been deemed operational.

Delays have continued to beset the others, namely international/high performance, amateur/youth, underage, referees and the women's strategic committee.

This has been caused primarily by attempts to populate them with the required skillsets and, most frustratingly, sufficient numbers of women.

Twice the board have sent out circulars seeking women from the football community to be part of their modern composition but the pleas haven't sparked anywhere near the traction required.

That they were scheduled to serve on two-year terms meant sleepwalking towards failure was inevitable.

Had the board given the green light to commence based on nominations, the grand total of female representation would have been 10%.

Faced with the dilemma of that Armageddon scenario or not forming committees at all, the board instead opted for an interim measure of 12-month terms – but the clock is ticking, as FAI company secretary Gerry Egan warned his audience.

"This is a challenge that every aspect of society is facing, whether it's the appointment of women to companies, be it limited or publicly quoted, or hospitals," he said. "There's a huge push on to create gender balance.

"Also, being very direct about this, it's very evident in our dealings with Sport Ireland and Government generally, that a failure to address this issue in a proactive way runs the risk of posing a serious threat to funding. We've gone for the least worst option."

When the FAI is still carrying €65m of debt and remains without a headline sponsor for over two years, the last thing it needs is relapsing into financial peril.

Despite believing they were being proactive on this topic, the pitiful uptake roars of a perception around FAI inclusivity.

"If faced with the same circumstances next year, we won't be standing up the committees," added Roy Barrett, the independent chairman who brokered the State's rescue package in return for the reform agenda.

"We can use one approach, saying future funding is under pressure or the board has to adhere to guidelines as imposed, but the reality is we, as a group, should want to do this and need to because it will improve our game.

"It will bring so many new people with new skillsets into football.

"As a board, we were disappointed with the nominations this time around but hopefully it can be addressed over the next year."

In response, a sub-committee of the board has been established to tackle the imbalance.

"What are the blockages and why are more women not coming through the various ranks?" Barrett wondered about the apparent chasm. "How can we say that this is okay, that if they put their hands up, they'll be taken seriously and treated with the same differences as anybody.

"We need to create that environment. If it can be done, we'll be one step ahead of the opposition in terms of competing sports."

That's a race worth observing. GAA director general Tom Ryan only three months ago only highlighted the difficulty ahead in complying with the same criteria laid out for their organisation by Minister Jack Chambers. At least, like the FAI, they're intent on hitting the 2023 deadline.

Only five years ago, John Delaney sat in front of an Oireachtas committee railing against the "tokenism" of gender quotas. His rugby counterpart Philip Browne branded the impending move "anti-democratic" and the "very antithesis of good governance".

How the commentary has gotten serious when money is on the line.

Evidence shows Derry aren't waiting around for silverware

It's okay that Derry's secret is out – their initial conservatism can be forgiven.

A recurrent theme since billionaire chairman Philip O'Doherty financially backed Ruaidhrí Higgins with transfer and wage funds has been soundbites aimed at tempering expectations.

Whether it was the manager himself, or his players Will Patching and Jamie McGonigle last week, bridging the gap on champions Shamrock Rovers, rather than dislodging them, dominated the script.

Such talk was hollow given Derry carried the monetary muscle to raid Dundalk for the spine of their side and handpick the likes of Matty Smith and Brandon Kavanagh from others around the league on appealing terms.

That they went to Tallaght last Friday and outplayed Rovers for an hour validated the reality of their title credentials. Doing so without their pair of marquee captures, injured ex-Dundalk pair Patrick McEleney and Michael Duffy, only further shattered the notion of European qualification being the height of their ambition this season.

Buying reinforcements in the summer window won't be a problem. Four points isn't an unassailable lead for leaders Rovers and the incentive of bringing Champions League football to the passionate Ryan McBride Brandywell next season is there for Derry to embrace.

"We want to get there quickly," admitted Higgins, dropping his guard after Rovers pinched a late winner. "If we have to bring one or two in the summer, we'll do that but we won't be rash or reckless."

Klopp offside with Uefa Nations League barb

For all the refreshing takes Jurgen Klopp offers, such as his stance on the booing at Wembley last Saturday, the odd one like his rant at the Nations League do him no good.

The Liverpool boss has never hidden his jaundiced view of international football but his latest dismissal is steeped in self-interest and devoid of appreciating the greater good.

"I still think the Nations League is one of the most ridiculous ideas in the world of football," he said last week.

"Now we finish a season where players have played more than 70 games easily — 63 club games plus internationals. It's really mad. Then we continue with the Nations League. There's no tournament so who cares if we play four, five, six games with the international teams."

For starters, June internationals were an annual staple before the Nations League was introduced in 2018. Secondly, only a minuscule portion of players across the 55 participating nations operate at the level of his Liverpool side, never mind lurch above 40 games during the season.

What cannot be disputed either are the benefits Nations League games have over the succession of mundane friendlies they replaced. No wins in 10 matches since its inception doesn't make great reading for Ireland but the presence of promotion and relegation, as well as Euro playoff places, injects meaning for players and fans alike. Perhaps if Klopp had ever represented his native Germany, a country of rich international heritage, he'd be more measured with his outbursts.

Email: john.fallon@examiner.ie

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