HEADLINES in all major Irish newspaper publications in recent weeks have focused on events ongoing at the FAI (Football Association of Ireland). It began with a Sunday Times publication that John Delaney—then CEO of the FAI—had loaned the football association €100,000 over a brief period. The principal of the loan was paid back to Mr Delaney within three months of loan in 2017. There was no record of this loan in either the organisation’s financial accounts or otherwise.
Mr Delaney was asked to appear in front of the Oirecachtas Committee to explain why the money was loaned to an organisation with a yearly turnover of €50 million. He was accused of ‘behaving disgracefully.’ And the FAI delegation —led by President Donal Conway—was also charged with being ‘evasive, vague, non-committal, ambiguous and choosing to answer what you wish,’ by Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy. Overall the hearing—which lasted over eight hours—was reminiscent of something similar to a scene from Father Ted when Independent TD Michael Healy Rae took to the floor defending Mr Delaney’s actions. Mr Delaney had stepped aside from his CEO position prior to the hearing to a new executive vice president role within the organisation, allowing him to avoid answering any questions relating to his previous role and thus effectively leaving Donal Conway to answer all the questions from various TDs on the FAI’s corporate governance issues.
Politicians at the Oireachtas Committee said Delaney and his FAI colleagues were ‘hiding behind the Grant Thornton and Mazars reports’ by refusing to flesh out why Mr Delaney provided the association with a controversial €100,000 loan. Committee chair Fergus O’Dowd TD called on the board of the FAI to consider their positions following Sport Ireland’s decision to stop their funding. The funding shortage in the long-term could have serious repercussions on the sport as a whole, but what we do know for now is that the board have resigned, although Mr Delaney (right) is still on the payroll of the FAI and also holds his seat—and the €160,000-a-year salary that accompanies it—on the UEFA Executive Committee.
A number of other allegations were published against Mr Delaney including the use of the FAI credit card to the sum of €40,000 over six months in 2016, while it was also alleged that he received a monthly fee from the FAI of €3000 to pay for his rented accommodation. Employees at the FAI were demanding an explanation as to why they were suffering from pay cuts when the organisation was paying €3000-a-month rent for its CEO. The Irish based trade union SIPTU said its members at the footballing body were ‘incensed’ by the revelation that in 2016 it was paying for Mr Delaney’s rent, after their wages had been slashed.
“This was during a period when the organisation was claiming to be unable to restore the pay and conditions of employment of our members due to financial constraints,” SIPTU organiser, Denis Hynes, said. “FAI employees were enduring reductions in salary of between 10 per cent and 15 per cent, which were implemented on what was meant to be a temporary basis in 2012.
“This issue has particularly incensed our members because when the cuts in their pay were originally imposed, John Delaney stated that he was taking a similar reduction in his earnings.”
Mr Delaney’s salary was €360,000 after the reduction.
The threat of prosecution hangs over FAI directors and Mr Delaney amid serious allegations of financial irregularities at the organisation. The FAI is engulfed in the biggest crisis in its history with the entire board stepping down and the scope of the investigation widening. Auditors Deloitte reported the company for failing to keep proper accounting records, which is potentially a criminal offence. FIFA are also monitoring events in Dublin and, if it finds that rules were broken, this could carry a serious penalty and even expulsion from international competition.
Criticism and changes
A huge amount of good work led by Mr Delaney has gone on over the last number of years within the FAI. These included bringing the European Championships to Dublin in 2020 and a number of other initiatives, such as recruiting Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin O’Neill, which were excellent appointments at the time, but these will be most likely be forgotten because of the aforementioned controversy. That’s understandable while we are still awaiting the outcome of the domestic probes.
For now, the hope for fans is that a new board will be elected that doesn’t contain any existing board members. The Genesis Report issued in 2002 after the Keane/McCarthy Saipan Saga recommended two non-related football personnel should be appointed to the board. This never happened and maybe the controversy could have been avoided if individuals had a better understanding of corporate governance and financial regulations.
Secondly the reputation of the FAI has been seriously tarnished and it’s worth noting that there are a lot of good people who work within the organisation. Former employees, such as senior team manager Brian Kerr, have been very critical of the FAI over the years for various reasons. It now seems as a lot of this criticism from former employees seems warranted.
From a football and fans perspective the hope is that the financial curfew imposed by Sport Ireland is lifted once a new board becomes elected. The longer the investigation drags on the greater the impact on the grassroots game becomes. Season tickets have been very reasonably priced over the last number of years in comparison with our Scottish counterparts and the majority of fans would like to see this continued under the new leadership. There is also a requirement from fans that a new universal away ticketing scheme is put in place.
For now it looks like Mr Delaney’s reign has come to an end and it remains to be seen what the outcome of all these investigations will be. If a new CEO is recruited over the summer, it’s hoped more emphasis and investment will be placed on the domestic league and youth development. The existing youth development structure sees players from mainly League of Ireland clubs compete on a national level from Under-13 all the way to Under-19. Recent attendances across the League of Ireland are on the rise and the results of the national team at youth level have been largely positive over the last 18 months. It’s far from doom and gloom, but huge restructuring at the top is required.