FAI board’s resignation is nowhere near enough
Government must know that nothing less than full regime change will rescue Irish soccer
The controversy over the abject governance of Irish football is only that – gross mismanagement in sport. Perspective is important; lives aren’t at stake. Still, it matters, and for those invested in the welfare of Irish football, nothing other than regime change will suffice if the systemic problems in management of the game here are to be addressed.
Reform had to start with replacement; that had to be the priority. But the problem went beyond its principal architect and the challenge was to correct the damage done by a culture of self-interest that has permeated the Football Association of Ireland and set back the development of Irish football.
From this perspective, the announcement on Tuesday that the board of the FAI will step down by June is more significant than the potential departure of former chief executive John Delaney. Delaney has stepped aside voluntarily from his new role as executive vice-president pending an independent review.
Credit is due to Shane Ross, the Minister for Sport, and all those who drove the agenda hard in recent weeks; more still is due to those at the vanguard for years like Brian Kerr and most football correspondents, who worked to reveal the problems inherent at the top of the organisation.
What was remarkable about yesterday’s announcement was that less than 24 hours earlier the board had appeared ready to defy the imperative of removing John Delaney. It announced that Delaney “volunteered to step aside pending an independent review”, and bizarrely, despite the board’s decision to resign, this remains the case at the time of writing.
This mustn’t be overlooked; football here has suffered under Delaney’s stewardship because, in part, its largely arcane structures facilitated his mode of “leadership”, described this week by former FAI president Des Casey as “autocratic”.
The Government has one chance to influence the FAI’s future direction
The FAI board had been moulded to suit John Delaney, but so too were other organisational features of the FAI, and therein lies future risk. Counterintelligence experts talk of the risks in removing senior figures in organisations but failing to break-up the organisational structure.
FAI letter to Shane Ross
With the board now gone, even any future full removal of John Delaney should be seen in that context; without reform of the organisational structure, the fundamentals will not change.
The outside change-agents cannot lose their nerve.
The Government has one chance to influence the FAI’s future direction. If the board’s resignation is followed by John Delaney’s, there will be cause for optimism.
But the critical questions are: where will the new board be drawn from, and how independent can it be? The process of change has only just got under way; it must be followed by a period of review and reform or the real opportunity could be lost.
The Government acted astutely in the past fortnight, but it must understand that nothing less than regime change – meaning the replacement of the system of leadership – will suffice.
The FAI’s independence is paramount. The Government must tread carefully, as anything approaching direct intervention could prompt Uefa sanctions against the Republic. The Government should engage positively and constructively towards an outcome that Uefa could support. Public funding should continue to be withheld until the necessary clearout and satisfactory transition arrangements are agreed.
The urgency of recent weeks needs now to be replaced by patience; establishing the necessary change will require a considered transition, and that’s vital to any complete transformation in the governance of Irish football.
An effective transition, managed by an experienced and skilled sports administrator, could lead to the appointment of a board under the leadership of an independent chair by the autumn. Only then should the FAI recruit a new CEO.
John Delaney should resign his position with Uefa. Should he refuse, Uefa must be encouraged to revoke it. It’s simple: if you don’t have the confidence of your national association, you’ve no entitlement to represent it internationally. Only arrogance could convince you otherwise.
It’s true that media interest in the conduct of one sports federation can seem disproportionate. However, a side effect of addressing fully its deficiencies, by way of full regime change, would be that, in future, those in charge are content to stay in the background and allow only its athletes to have the profile and the attention that football attracts.
Fintan Drury is a former League of Ireland player, founder and CEO of sports management company Platinum One UK, and a registered FA intermediary.