If Delaney departs, it will lead to seismic change at FAI

A very great many questions remain about the way football association has been run

John Delaney has told an Oireachtas committee that legal advice he has received precludes him from answering questions on the about a controversial €100,000 payment he made to the FAI. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

John Delaney’s future within the FAI remains under intense scrutiny and if, as is widely expected, he finally leaves the organisation, it will amount to a seismic change at the governing body of the most played game in Ireland.

One Delaney confidant, John O’Regan, secretary of the Kerry District League, has said the former chief executive has tendered his resignation but will retain his Uefa role.

If this is confirmed, much will depend on the circumstances in which Delaney leaves the organisation he has run for 15 years.

The way in which those staying on the board can justify their actions - or inaction - during their various stints on the organisation’s board will also be of interest.

Delaney’s time in charge of the FAI has been controversial from the first day.

There were many who felt he never should have been allowed to succeed Fran Rooney as chief executive in 2004.

Honorary Secretary Michael Cody played a central role in helping Delaney tie the role down after a spell as interim chief executive which Delaney used to his full advantage.

There seemed to be some hope for those dismayed by the prospect of him securing longer term control when the then government got involved in the selection process but it then did nothing to prevent somebody they knew was a deeply divisive figure landing one of the top jobs in Irish sport.

A screengrab from Oireachtas TV of FAI executive vice-president John Delaney before the Oireachtas Sports Committee. Photograph: PA
A screengrab from Oireachtas TV of FAI executive vice-president John Delaney before the Oireachtas Sports Committee. Photograph: PA

If he departs, politicians will have played a key role with Wednesday’s Oireachtas Committee appearance causing significant reputational damage to have made Delaney’s future with the organisation problematic or even untenable, even to many of those who had previously been neutral, at least in public, about the 51 year-old’s performance.

Growth

For most of the intervening years, the political establishment were happy enough to leave Delaney to it. Football, internationally and in Ireland, underwent substantial growth with commercial and broadcast revenues soaring to the point that government underfunding was far less of an issue than it might otherwise have been.

The redevelopment of Lansdowne Road proved a mixed blessing for Delaney and the FAI, however. At one point before the reconstruction, he boasted the FAI could write a cheque for its share of the costs but that was not to be the way it turned out.

Instead, the organisation, like the IRFU, sought to rely on the sale of 10-year premium seats and packages targeted mainly at the corporate sector. That proved to be a far happier hunting ground for the rugby people although the FAI’s pricing strategy didn’t help.

Their best seats initially cost €32,000 each, an impossibly high figure that caused shock when it was announced and immediately ensured that there was no possibility of the scheme selling out. It came nowhere close to its targets in the end with the wider economic crash contributing to what turned out to be a catastrophic failure for the association.

Fans attending the Euro 2020 qualifier between the Republic of Ireland v Georgia protest against John Delaney. Photograph: Reuters
Fans attending the Euro 2020 qualifier between the Republic of Ireland v Georgia protest against John Delaney. Photograph: Reuters

An attempt to offer softer credit terms then backfired with few extra sales but a significant number of people who had bought first time around now looking to get out of their original commitment. This was all a decade ago and the FAI’s finances have not been the same since but, as on so many other occasions, Delaney declined to accept responsibility and nobody else on the board seemed inclined to either take or apportion blame.

Embarrassment

This approach was in evidence through the years that followed. Delaney’s behaviour brought embarrassment on the association on various occasions - most memorably in Poland at Euro2012 or when he sang a song about an IRA hunger striker in 2014 and then when it emerged that, having publicly castigated Sepp Blatter for the way in which he used Fifa money, the FAI had taken €5 million to leave the Swiss in peace when a refereeing error contributed to Ireland’s defeat in a World Cup play-off.

The association had, taking its lead from Uefa, voted to re-elect Blatter on a number of occasions.

Things reached the point where it seemed hard to imagine just what Delaney would have to do to come a cropper but having played a part in the exit of predecessors Bernard O’Byrne and Rooney, for minor financial matters, the rumours of chaos on that front behind the scenes out in Abbotstown made it likely financial matters would cause him the most difficulty.

The pressure on Delaney escalated over this weekend when The Sunday Times published details of Delaney’s spending on his FAI credit card.

‘I am telling you, John Delaney will officially step down from his position’, says the secretary of Kerry District League Soccer, John O Regan. Photo: Eye Focus
‘I am telling you, John Delaney will officially step down from his position’, says the secretary of Kerry District League Soccer, John O Regan. Photo: Eye Focus

When The Sunday Times ran a story last month on the €100,000 cheque Delaney wrote to his employers in 2017, the simple facts of the matter were remarkable enough but Delaney generated a strong sense there was far more to it all than a simple, short-term bailout with his attempt to secure a last-minute High Court injunction to prevent publication.

Untrue

After that story was published, there were press releases claiming the board had known what had been going on all along then, something it subsequently became clear was untrue with the association’s president, Donal Conway, suggesting in front of the Committee for Sport the other day that Delaney had been the one to sign off on the statement.

With revelations emerging regarding some of his expense arrangements - rent of €3,000 was being paid by the association - a hurried attempt was made to move Delaney into a newly created role.

It seems this was to be done anyway and the plan had probably been to hail it as another great day for Irish football, but instead they sprang the news immediately after the game in Gibraltar when the hope might have been that his removal from the board had enough of a whiff of demotion about it that the political mainstream would declare themselves happy action had been taken.

(From left) FAI president Donal Conway and FAI executive vice preseident John Delaney. Photograph: Collins
(From left) FAI president Donal Conway and FAI executive vice preseident John Delaney. Photograph: Collins

The upshot was a mess, though, with most believing the FAI had sabotaged their own management structures and made a bad governance situation even worse.

They had little option, in the end, but to admit the board had been in dark all along about the €100,000 and once they acknowledged they had broken Sport Ireland’s funding rules, that organisation had no option but to suspend its funding, some €2.9 million annually.

The money represented just five per cent of the FAI’s turnover but five per cent more than they could afford to lose.

The hope would have been to repair some of the damage on Wednesday when the association’s senior executive appeared before the Oireachtas Committee for Sport along with three of its directors.

Disastrous

The disastrous tone for the day was set early on, however, when John Delaney revealed he would be declining to comment beyond a statement that did additional damage by confirming only two other board members had known about his loan to the organisation and sought to lay the blame for the fact that the crisis which had apparently prompted it reached the point it did, at the door of the then financial director, Eamon Breen.

The new financial director was one of several delegation members unable to bring an awful lot to the party because they were so new to their jobs while the directors had a decidedly mixed day with FAI president Donal Conway coping well enough as he stuck to a deeply unpromising script, chairman of the FAI Committee on legal and corporate affairs Páraic Treanor going largely unnoticed but honorary treasurer Eddie Murray crashing and burning as he claimed, at one point, not to have felt undermined when he discovered he had been misled with regard to the finances for fully two years, and, at another, suggested the association has one bank account when the true figure is 24.

In what was, one suspects, a rare departure from that script, Conway said at one point the board would do whatever it had to in order to get the public funding restored.

Even if, or when, Delaney departs and even if he is followed by others from the FAI board, it may not be the end of the matter. There will still be a very great many questions asked about the way the association has been run and who was actually running it.

If the remaining board members cannot come up with some unexpectedly good answers about their part in all that has gone on, then their own positions will be widely regarded as untenable too.

The FAI as we have known it seems set for change.

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