Time to clear out John Delaney and all his devotees from the FAI
Funding should be withheld to ensure the existing board does not choose the next CEO
John Delaney: moving him to a new role with most of the responsibilities of a CEO defines the utter mediocrity of the FAI. Photograph: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
The veteran US political commentator and satirist Bill Maher has for months been suggesting the Trump presidency is so narcissistic that should he lose the 2020 election, Donald Trump could well refuse to leave the White House. It is a kind of apocalyptic and extreme view of how a nation that sees itself as a beacon of democracy could be faced with the most profound challenge to its standards.
To those for whom Irish football is important, its governance for more than a decade has left the same clawing fear that nothing short of John Delaney’s elevation to even higher office would result in the change of leadership most with any knowledge and love of the game have craved.
Suddenly, last week, there was hope. Events appeared to force his resignation as CEO, yet his board chose to create a new executive position that, bizarrely, it appeared only Delaney could fill.
It is preposterous. A school’s player would see the stupidity of the club chairman being forced out only to be appointed to a newly-created role with responsibility for the same tasks he has had previously.
Yet that is what it appears the national association is proposing, and would want football supporters to accept it. It is beyond absurd, but, perversely, has helped to illustrate the scale of the problems at the FAI.
The FAI board needs to be asked to step down. The initial request can be polite but if ignored there needs to be a purge of the FAI to include its committee structure through which too much control can centre on one individual.
The problem goes beyond its principal architect; the challenge is to correct the damage done by a culture of self-interest that has permeated the association and set back the development of football in Ireland.
Government must intervene. It is not straightforward; the FAI is autonomous, but nonetheless it is still possible for the State to insist on radical change.
The Taoiseach pointed out on Sunday that while the association was not a public body, it received public funds.
Those funds should be paused until the board is changed even if in the short-term that could undermine football initiatives.
This should not be left to Sport Ireland alone, which, as events at the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) demonstrated, is itself in need of an overhaul.
Today most of our sports organisations are well managed, including large and complex ones like the GAA or IRFU. They conduct their business to high standards, but the FAI and before it the OCI, two of the largest recipients of public funds, were allowed too much latitude by the publicly-funded Sport Ireland.
Football is the most popular sport in the world and also on this island. Sadly, the FAI has not had effective management for decades; its problems predated Delaney’s tenure.
Tony O’Neill, who ran the FAI 30 years ago, bemoaned then its arcane committee structure, which he saw as fertile ground for mediocrity and worse. So it has proven; even post the limited Genesis reform its structure offers bountiful terrain for power-junkies to incubate personal support across the association.
Sport is important in our society – it contributes at different levels – so wise governance is paramount. Anyone vested in community wellbeing knows the part sport can play, and within that the particular value of the world’s most popular game.
Change can now happen, but we should caution against haste. What matters now isn’t prioritising writing the next chapter in the governance of Irish football; time should be spent on researching the best storyline.
Understandably football fans are in a rush for change. The FAI board has announced a new CEO will be appointed by May. However, this would not serve football’s interests as it presumes the existing board should be trusted to appoint Delaney’s successor. It should not.
The Government has one chance to influence the FAI’s future direction, and while it might rather not trade in threats on funding, that’s exactly what it must do.
To move towards the appointment of a new CEO within weeks and without a change of board would be disastrous.
The Government must insist the board stands down, and that either an individual with relevant experience or a small task force headed by such a person undertakes a review with recommendations on the future.
There is a recently retired, highly respected, CEO of another large sports organisation who could be asked to lead that work.
When the time comes to bring about the badly needed fresh start, a new board, comprising skilled and knowledgeable individuals with no prior FAI involvement, should be appointed.
That board would then set about the recruitment of someone with a record of accountable achievement in a complex and demanding role as its CEO.
It seems obvious but it is worth emphasising that the usual suspects might be best avoided, and that those of the world of football should have no particular advantage.
The need is for someone of intellect, drive and corporate (not personal) ambition to reform and manage the FAI.
So, what happens next and who asserts control is critical to achieving the right outcome. With what the FAI has proposed there is no cause yet for optimism.
Moving Delaney to a new role with most of the responsibilities of a CEO defines the utter mediocrity of the association, and just how pressing the need is for complete reform and a clear-out of all his devotees.
Fintan Drury is a former League of Ireland player, founder and CEO of sports management company Platinum One UK, and a registered FA intermediary.