John Foley expected to be named FAI interim CEO next week
Former Athletics Ireland chief is no stranger to Irish football
John Foley is expected to be named as the FAI interim chief executive next week. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
An attempt to rebuild bridges with the Government and their agencies is one of the drivers behind the Football Association of Ireland’s preference for appointing John Foley as interim chief executive.
Noel Mooney’s temporary stay as John Delaney’s successor ends next Friday when he returns to his original job in Uefa, leaving a vacancy at a critical juncture of the association’s recovery from troubled times.
Due to delays in filling the four seats on the new FAI board reserved for independent directors, including the chairperson, the search for Delaney’s permanent successor has been long fingered until next year.
The candidature of Foley, therefore, has been raised around the boardroom table in Abbotstown as another stopgap measure, with considerable weight attached to his State connections.
Minister for Sport Shane Ross cut funding to Irish football in April as concerns over corporate governance intensified.
The second 50 per cent tranche of the annual €2.9 million grant from Sport Ireland to fund the salaries of the FAI development officers has been suspended pending the outcome of various ongoing reports. State aid to projects such as the Dalymount Park overhaul and the Munster Academy in Glanmire, Cork has also been frozen.
Foley has spent the last decade in sports administration, the vast majority as CEO of Athletics Ireland. Late last year, he took up a six-month caretaker role with Cycling Ireland until they recruited Matt McKerrow as permanent chief executive in April.
It was in that month that John Treacy, head of Sport Ireland, highlighted the desire to be involved in appointing Delaney’s successor. Treacy and Sport Ireland chairman Kieran Mulvey are known allies of Foley.
“In my view, one of the most important decisions to be made by the FAI will be the next chief executive,” said Treacy, who like Foley and Delaney, is from Waterford. “I hope that we, be it Sport Ireland or the Government, will have a major influence in terms of that decision.”
Despite the supposed political benefits of parachuting a safe pair of hands in as peacemaker, equally there are concerns about Foley’s suitability.
He’s no stranger to Irish football, having been a member of the League of Ireland’s national executive since its inception in 2007. Foley was nominated by Delaney to the committee as one of only two ‘independent’ directors.
Over that timespan, several crises have engulfed the league, with salient questions persisting over the lack of transparency and corporate governance.
For example, bedrocks in their rulebook such as staging an annual convention for clubs and re-electing their chairman were ignored.
Additionally, Foley was a frequent attendee at the association’s annual general meeting, a forum routinely used for as an altar of worship towards Delaney rather than a forum for debate.
The absence of scrutiny at gatherings goes some way to explaining the mess Foley is to inherit once he’s formally announced next week.
Financial accounts for 2018, and a rectified version of the previous year, are due to be circulated to members 21 days in advance of the deferred annual general meeting. The AGM in July had to be adjourned as the accounts were still being processed.
Multiple issues have further delayed finalising the data but the latest forecast for the AGM in Saturday, December 21st.
Those documents will reveal the true extent of the organisation’s difficulties, with liabilities understood to have gone beyond the €50 million mark.
Uefa has provided an overdraft facility of up to €15 million to address a cashflow crisis compounded by the outlay from legal and accounting costs surrounding the various audits and investigations.
As a period of austerity looms, including almost certainly staff redundancies, Foley can no longer be the suit at the back of the room silently observing formalities.