FAI controversy has echoes of Olympic Council of Ireland saga

Association’s board facing questions over governance and John Delaney’s leadership

 John Delaney with  Pat Hickey, former president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, and Emma English in 2016. Photograph:  Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

John Delaney with Pat Hickey, former president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, and Emma English in 2016. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

 

His “positive attributes were genuinely appreciated . . . and for good reason. However, his style of leadership was characterised by strong personal control over decision-making. He did not seek the engagement of his key officers or of the executive committee in decision-making.

“He presented the decision as a fait accompli. It was an autocratic style of leadership. It allowed for a situation where there was an over-dependence on the power of one individual, an unhealthy situation in any organisation.”

The quote is from the Moran report into the Olympic Council of Ireland’s (OCI) handling of tickets for the Rio Olympic Games and “ancillary matters”, and refers to Pat Hickey, who stepped aside as president of the OCI in the wake of the Rio scandal. But it might just as easily be said about John Delaney and his relationship with the FAI.

Undoubtedly, the members of the Oireachtas Committee for Transport, Tourism and Sport will want the details behind Delaney’s €100,000 loan to the FAI, but the bigger issue here is the governance of the association.

There are many who have long believed that Delaney exerts too much control over its workings. Politicians will on Wednesday need to test those arguments. Equally, the public will benefit from Delaney and his FAI colleagues publicly seeking to reject such notions.

Not a good start

Monday’s statement by the FAI was not a good start. Clearly, some of the FAI’s board are now saying that they did not know about the “loan”, though none did so earlier in the month when they were asked often enough.

In one of the FAI’s declarations, Delaney said that, as CEO, “I hold regular meetings with our director of finance regarding the state of our finances, and all items arising are conveyed to our board at our monthly meetings”. Today, those words will be pushed back at him.

They will have to dispel the notion that matters are reported to the FAI board, rather than sent up to it for decision-making

Three board members, Donal Conway (president), Eddie Murray (honorary treasurer) and Páraic Treanor (chair of legal and corporate affairs committee) will join Delaney in Leinster House and have to defend their actions, too.

Here, they will have to dispel the notion that matters are reported to the FAI board, rather than sent up to it for decision-making, as former OCI board member Prof Ciarán Ó Catháin said about “the real decision-making” powers enjoyed by Pat Hickey.

For president, read chief executive; for Hickey read Delaney and Chapter 10 of the Moran report, the section on governance, which gives a pretty clear sense of the sorts of questions that people ask about the way things are done in Abbotstown.

More autonomy

Stephen Martin, the OCI’s then CEO, admitted that he had expected to have more autonomy before realising the many areas in which he would have to defer to the president.

Moran reported that Pat Hickey “was described invariably as a good negotiator, especially for funding and sponsorship. He was described as a problem-solver and his skills in this area were trusted within the OCI. He was also described as ‘a very hands-on president’.”

Hickey was OCI president for 28 years, and remains a member of the International Olympic Committee, and has risen very high within the Olympic movement at a global level, and is seen, too, as someone who had delivered “good funding” for the Irish Olympics body.

In Delaney’s case, read 15 years for 28, and Uefa for IOC. People today say almost identical things about Delaney as they once did about Hickey. Indeed, Delaney was, as it happens, second vice-president of the OCI under Hickey and long regarded as Hickey’s natural successor.

Sport Ireland on Tuesday suspended the FAI’s funding.

Transparency is never mentioned in the FAI’s world. Far from it

Eventually, Sport Ireland saw no option but to suspend the OCI’s funding, following a report by Deloitte that recommended radical change. The organisation implemented it. In February 2017 elections, just one of the old board returned.

Concluding its work, the Moran report declared: “It is reasonable to suppose that, because of the change of personnel on its executive committee, meaningful reform is now under consideration within the OCI.”

Reform itself

Last week, the Sport Council held up the now Olympic Federation of Ireland as an example of how an organisation can successfully reform itself. So far, no one has suggested a similar changing of the guard at the FAI, but it is increasingly hard to see how it can be avoided.

The organisation is, for a start, currently in breach of its own rules over the hurriedly implemented changes announced on the night of the Gibraltar game when Delaney got his new role. Everything is about governance, governance, governance.

Transparency is never mentioned in the FAI’s world. Far from it. Indeed, administrators in charge at the association seek to bind people to secrecy on pain of sanction, giving themselves broad powers to punish critics.

Number eight in the Association’s rulebook requires administrators to “carry on the business of the game in a seemly and orderly fashion”. Number 13 acknowledges that public confidence demands “the highest standards of financial and administrative propriety”.

The list goes on. On Wednesday, we will see today how many of their own rules actually have, or have not been breached, but there seems more than enough in the meantime for those in charge out in Abbotstown to throw the book at themselves.

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