FAI debt rises to €63.5 million

Chairman Barrett notes €6.7 million surplus as proof of ‘financial progress off the pitch’

The Football Association of Ireland debt has risen “to the tune of some €63.5 million”, revealed chairman Roy Barrett, ahead of the “centenary” annual general meeting later this month.

The FAI’s bank and other borrowings increased by €1.1 million in 2021, up from €62.4 million, but Barrett emphasised that while “finances have been stabilised”, reducing the gargantuan “legacy debt” remains a “key long-term focus” for the revamped board.

Bank loans last year were just shy of €42 million.

“While the FAI remains in debt to the tune of some €63.5 million, I can assure all stakeholders, including Government, Sport Ireland and our bank [Bank of Ireland], that we continue to make real financial progress off the pitch,” said Barrett, the former Goodbody Stockbrokers managing director. “Our costs are now under control, our revenues are rising and the feel-good factor experienced across recent international fixtures and at all levels of our game is reflected in the workings of the association.”

Perhaps working inside the confines of the 2021 accounts, Barrett overlooked 1-0 defeats in June to an Armenia team ranked 92 by Fifa and the Ukraine reserves in Dublin.

The return of supporters, especially the full house at the Aviva for Portugal last November, ensured that match-related income took a massive leap from €300,000 in 2020 to €7.1 million. Also, the association’s turnover was €54.3 million, up from €41.6 million, with a cash balance of €27.1 million delivering another ‘post-Covid’ lift of €11 million.

“As we present our 2021 accounts, I am convinced we are turning the corner after our recent turmoil, as evident from a financial perspective at the very least,” Barrett continued. “It is a testament to the hard work and perseverance of all who work for the FAI and for Irish football that we finished 2021 in a strong cash position, a strong surplus position and return to a net asset position after three years in a net liability position.

“Those hard facts are to be applauded.”

Another hard fact that cannot be ignored is the ongoing absence of a shirt sponsor for the men’s senior team since telecommunications giant Three announced the end of a 10-season arrangement in December 2019.

Unearthing a sponsor falls to chief executive Jonathan Hill, who was widely expected to deliver a lucrative new deal in the 20 months since the former FA commercial director was appointed. Hill remains based in London, unlike the recently appointed director of football Marc Canham, with the FAI highlighting that the latest English recruit has moved his family to Ireland.

The FAI published its accounts at 6pm on a Friday despite a full schedule of League of Ireland matches kicking off at 7.45pm. The attendance of board members at meetings was noted in the document, with Robert Watt, secretary-general of the Department of Health, bottom of class after missing four of 20 gatherings in 2021. Richard Shakespeare, Dublin City Council’s assistant chief executive, missed three of 20 board meetings.

Unmentioned in the report, the Women’s Strategic Committee has yet to meet despite being created in July 2021 under chairwoman Sally Horrox, who remained in charge after World Rugby appointed her as their director of women’s rugby in May. A player representative from the current senior squad and other members of the committee are due to be approached, with a historic first meeting to chart the direction of the women’s game expected at some stage this summer.

However, in stark contrast, four committees also formed 12 months ago – the Audit, Risk, Compliance and Finance committee, the Executive Performance and Remuneration committee, the Governance committee and Nominations committee – convened for a total of 31 meetings.

“Irish football has experienced more than our fair share of pain in the recent past so I feel we are entitled to enjoy this new sense of optimism,” said Barrett after listing off positives like Ireland’s World Cup qualifier draw in Gothenburg and record attendances at League of Ireland matches. “There is a lot of hard work to come and we are still a long way from the light at the end of the tunnel – at least now we can see the light.”

Much like previous regimes there remains a heavily reliance on Uefa’s centralised commercial revenues, which are guaranteed until 2028, to provide a “reliable and consistent source of cash flows”.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent