Government warns FAI ‘serious work needed’ to restore trust

Letter to football association prompted by ‘alarming reports’ of boardroom split

The Government has written to the FAI outlining a range of concerns  in the wake of recent media reports about its board. Photograph: Inpho

The Government has written to the FAI outlining a range of concerns in the wake of recent media reports about its board. Photograph: Inpho

 

The Government has told the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) that there is still “serious work to be done” to restore trust that it is fit for public funding, and reminded the association it is expected to implement reforms agreed in January.

A strongly-worded letter was sent to the FAI on Thursday morning by Minister for Sport Catherine Martin and Dara Calleary, the junior minister and Government chief whip who oversees the sport portfolio, outlining a range of concerns at recent media reports relating to the FAI.

The letter, seen by The Irish Times, was prompted by what it describes as “alarming” media reports of a boardroom split at the association, with some directors reportedly keen to renegotiate the memorandum of understanding (MoU) which governs a state bailout of the association approved earlier this year.

“We wish to confirm for the Board that the new Government has no intention of entering any discussion with the FAI or other stakeholders on the terms of the [MoU] signed in January.”

It continues: “There is still serious work to be done to restore our trust that the FAI is fit to receive public funds. The conditions set out in the MoU are absolutely essential, and we would encourage the board, the FAI Council and the broader membership of the association to redouble their efforts to implement these conditions in full.”

Dispute

At the core of the boardroom dispute is a condition in the MoU that the board of the FAI be comprised of six independent directors and six directors appointed by the FAI council, with the independent chairman, Roy Barrett, casting the deciding vote in the event of a tied ballot.

That stipulation has led to a conflict at board level within the association, which last year was at the centre of a major corporate governance crisis relating to the pay and conditions afforded to former chief executive John Delaney.

The arrangement is seen by some board members as undermining the influence of the grassroots game in favour of a corporate board, with Mr Barrett at its head. Mr Barrett, who was appointed in January with a mandate to reform the organisation, was previously part of a group which sought to reform the FAI during Mr Delaney’s tenure. That group was headed by former Ireland striker Niall Quinn, who is now deputy CEO of the FAI.

An extraordinary general meeting of the FAI is set to be convened in the coming weeks to progress changes to the FAI rulebook, including providing for the six independent directors to be appointed.

The letter states that: “While there are likely to be some within your membership who would be opposed to these changes, to safeguard the future of the association and the livelihoods of its employees it is important that going forward best practice corporate governance is implemented across the association.

“We would ask that all members of the board show leadership to ensure there is no return to the financial and governance crisis which paralysed the FAI through most of last year.”

The letter also makes reference to the “perilous state of the FAI’s finances” at the beginning of the year, and that the Covid-19 crisis “has severely impacted the FAI’s financial position”.

“[This] underlines once again the importance of the multi-stakeholder recovery plan agreed by the previous Government.” It notes that additional Covid-19 funding will be available for the FAI, “as and when Sport Ireland is satisfied that necessary conditions have been met to restore public funding”.

Asked about the letter, a spokeswoman for the Department of Sport said the ministers “recognise that there is a long road ahead to restore public confidence in the FAI. The Ministers and Sport Ireland continue to support the FAI chair and board in their efforts to reform the association”.

The FAI declined to comment.

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