Governance report represents significant change at FAI

FAI reforms may be a hard sell within the organisation but there is no plan B

Kieran Mulvey, chairman of Sport Ireland, Donal Conway, president of the FAI, and Aidan Horan, chairman of the Governance Review Group, at the FAI headquarters in Abbotstown where the report from the Governance Review Group was presented. Photograph:  Crispin Rodwell

Kieran Mulvey, chairman of Sport Ireland, Donal Conway, president of the FAI, and Aidan Horan, chairman of the Governance Review Group, at the FAI headquarters in Abbotstown where the report from the Governance Review Group was presented. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

 

“There is no plan B.” Donal Conway, president of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), could not have been clearer.

The governance review group report, published on Friday, is being presented as the cornerstone of a new FAI. If it is adopted, and enacted, then it does represent a significant change of direction at Abbotstown.

Put simply, it would change who makes the decisions and how those decision-makers are appointed. It aims to do this by empowering board committees, enhancing transparency, changing the structure of corporate governance and altering the manner in which appointments to the board are made.

The board, it is envisaged, will look after the commercial livelihood of the FAI, while a football management committee would look after the nuts and bolts of the game in Ireland – the football business, as opposed to the business of football.

The roles of the FAI president and chairperson are to be split, previously being held by the same person, while the roles of honorary secretary and honorary treasurer would be abolished.

Four independent directors will be appointed, while female representation on the board, and the wider FAI council, will increase to one-third – a guideline that will become mandatory in two years’ time.

Term limits for board members and membership of the council will also be included. The council, which elects the board, will be expanded by 21 members, increasing representation for the women’s league, the League of Ireland clubs, supporters, players and other groups.

There is very little to criticise in any of this. It is solid corporate governance orthodoxy designed to send a message that the FAI is serious about reform to the stakeholders that matter the most – specifically, Uefa, Fifa, Minister for Sport Shane Ross, Sport Ireland and the FAI sponsors. However, as has always been the case with the FAI, diagnosing a cure will be easier than administering it.

Signs of dissent

There are already signs of dissent in the ranks over the content of the report, with the head of the Schoolboys Football Association of Ireland (SFAI) resigning over its recommendations.

Irish football doesn’t speak with one voice; measures to mollify one faction will inevitably threaten another. Steering a package of wide-reaching reforms through any large organisation is difficult enough; through this organisation even more so.

Securing two-thirds support for the reforms will require a deft political skill that has been sorely lacking in recent months at FAI headquarters. The FAI and Sport Ireland will undertake a roadshow to sell this deal to the grassroots in the coming weeks. Much rests on their success.

The FAI is facing bigger challenges than this report. It is easy to make the right noises about reform, but more thorny problems could emerge from the review being undertaken by Mazars, the Sport Ireland audit, or the investigation by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) – all triggered by questions surrounding the FAI’s handling of a €100,000 loan between it and former chief executive John Delaney.

Finances

Meanwhile, a review of its finances is due in the coming weeks, which could clarify the amount needed in a bailout from Uefa. The endgame to the Delaney saga is still shrouded in secrecy – his name was unmentionable at Abbotstown on Friday, with all questions about the executive vice-president rebuffed.

Nonetheless, the stakes for next month’s vote are undeniably high. If the current leadership of the FAI cannot deliver a vote in support of reform, whatever shred of legitimacy is still attached to their stewardship of the game in Ireland will evaporate.

It would push an organisation which is barely managing its way through turmoil into fresh crisis, and raise fundamental questions about the viability of the organisation.

If there is no Plan B, the FAI will pray it can pull off Plan A.