On Friday night, at the Arklow Bay Hotel, the FAI were handing out media awards, but just the following morning in the same venue, they were warding off attempts by journalists to question chief executive John Delaney.
The irony of it all was not lost on media representatives who were notified by the FAI press office early on Saturday that, in a significant departure from normal practice, there would be no press conference or briefing following the AGM with which Wicklow’s week-long Festival of Football was set to conclude that afternoon.
Indeed when, after that meeting had concluded, some journalists attempted to approach John Delaney directly, they were blocked from doing so by association staff.
And one of the few delegates who, on past form, might have been expected to ask probing questions from the floor was also in no position to do so, Paul Cooke being barred from attending the AGM on the grounds that his club, Waterford United, had not paid their League of Ireland affiliation fee.
The upshot of it all is that, barring one contribution from a delegate on the subject of a schoolboy football dispute, there was not a single point raised from the floor in response to the keynote speeches from the stage by the FAI chief executive, treasurer, finance director and president.
Addressing delegates, John Delaney referred in critical terms to a recent newspaper report which had quoted an unnamed Government source as saying that the Department of Sport was “in the dark” about the scale of the FAI’s debt..
“This was most surprising,” said Delaney, “since the reality is we have an excellent professional relationship with the ministers and the department who are fully informed and not in the dark whatsoever and who have confirmed this to be the case.”
Delegates and media present at the AGM heard that there were “a number of highly significant commercial deals in progress” which Delaney said he expected would come to fruition in the near future.
In justifying what was described as a Board of Management decision not to speak to the press after the AGM, Delaney argued that the association has “a corporate duty to act in its best interests and sensitive commercial matters such as this fall into that category”.
Why a ‘no comment’ in that regard would not have sufficed, allowing a press conference to deal with other issues was not explained.
The meeting heard that at the end of 2012, the FAI met their stated break-even objective, recording an operating profit of €6.2 million and a retained surplus of €25,000. Owing to its onerous Aviva Stadium commitments, however, the association is burdened with a net debt estimated at €63m. But, despite acknowledging the current difficult economic climate, Delaney and finance director Tony Dignam were both adamant that the association will be debt-free by its stated target date of 2020, thanks in the main to proceeds from the new centralised UEFA TV rights deal — estimated by the association to be worth €60-70m from 2014 to 2020 — in addition to income from the resale of premium seats, renegotiation of naming rights for the Aviva Stadium and other sources. “Our revenues, from 2014 onwards are based on security few other businesses enjoy,” Delaney said.
And, although he maintained that the potential financial benefits of success for the senior Irish team have not been factored into the association’s long-term business plan, Delaney did allude to the “significantly increased likelihood” of qualification for Euros 2016 and 2020 with the expansion of the tournament to accommodate 24 finalists.
On domestic matters, Delaney appealed to Waterford United — currently threatened with a winding up order — and their former manager Stephen Henderson, to “engage in meaningful dialogue which is far more likely to result in a resolution than costly high-stakes brinkmanship which benefits neither party.”
And, after confirming that next year’s AGM and Festival of Football all will be held in Westmeath, the FAI boss concluded by telling delegates: “There are challenges ahead but we are better equipped and structured than ever before to meet them.”
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