The FAI averted a governance crisis ahead of this afternoon’s AGM by expanding their board of directors to 14 people, which allows the association to attain 40 per cent gender balance.
Of 116 general assembly delegates, 110 voted to pass the special resolution, which had failed to reach the necessary 75 per cent majority at last month’s EGM. Only six delegates voted against the constitutional change that paves the way for more woman to populate both the board and the assembly.
The FAI will add two female directors, bringing that number to six, “early in 2024”.
Gerry McAnaney, the outgoing FAI president, said: “This is a very significant development for the association ... our focus in recent weeks has been on the details of the proposals and securing the support of members. It would be easy to lose sight of the significance of this decision and the opportunity it presents to the association to show leadership in the area of equality, diversity and inclusion.
“It is fitting that this positive development should come about in the year in which our women’s national team took part in their first World Cup and were promoted to Euro Nations League A. And the year in which we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Irish women’s participation in international football.”
The association was facing the loss of €4.35 million in Government grants if they did not hit the gender quota. The GAA and the IRFU recently made similar changes to their governance structures.
Despite a strong vote for change, several delegates questioned the FAI’s work to achieve gender balance, diversity and inclusion on an administrative level.
“I am looking around the room and we are nowhere near the 40 per cent target on the general assembly,” said Ursula Scully, a former FAI board member. “I believe that failing lies firmly and equally with the FAI as an organisation.
“We have not put in place any programmes or initiatives in the last four years. We all hear the commentary – ‘oh we need to have women on the board’. But the last time there was an initiate it was run by the previous people who sit at that table.
“It was four years ago that the women in leadership programme, which I am a graduate of and Niamh [O’Mahony] is a graduate of. You want us to reach a target of 40 per cent, doubling the current number but you have to put the effort in, you have not met people halfway and you are simply not doing that.
“We want the organisation to be reflective of our game and reflect our community.
“I fully support the role that independent [female directors Liz Joyce and Catherine Guy] bring but they don’t bring visibility, they don’t bring retention, they don’t bring pathways and they don’t show how women from within the game can get to the top table.
“We had a unique opportunity today to ringfence two seats on the FAI board for women in the game and we choose not to. I can’t understand why. I see no reason why we cannot ringfence two seats for women in the game to go forward. It would have provided a huge pathway and huge visibility for women who work hard in the game.
“And it is harder for women to work within the game and harder for woman to break the barriers in front of them,” Scully continued. “But we do it for the love for the game. I am disappointed and disheartened that we didn’t take the opportunity to do that here today.
“I’ve no doubt the resolution will pass and it should, but we need to look at how we do things going forward. There has been no initiatives, none whatsoever, from the FAI to encourage women to get into the game at an administrative level. Absolutely none.
“We can bandy about the leadership programme from four years ago, when 30 people graduated but we have done nothing for them. Absolutely nothing.”
Peter Harvey, a delegate representing non-League of Ireland clubs, noted the lack of diversity on the FAI top table and across the general assembly membership.
“I am fully in support of this motion to have more female representation on the board and committees but I do not see this room as being diverse.,” said Harvey. “Yes, we got some female representation, but not enough.
“But where are the people of colour in this room? This is a white room, nearly 100 per cent.”