Brendan Menton: New FAI will emerge if report implemented in full
Lots of positives in governance review but its approval by agm not a foregone conclusion
Chairman of Sport Ireland Kieran Mulvey, FAI president Donal Conway and Governance Review Group chairman Aidan Horan at a press conference at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell
The governance review report into the FAI and its 78 recommendations are comprehensive. The recommendations have the unanimous approval of the governance review group and, it seems, of the remnants of the FAI board. However, their full approval by the 206-member agm on July 22nd is not a foregone conclusion. The position of some historical power blocks within the FAI will be reduced if the recommendations are implemented. Can the 137 votes required for approval be mustered? I would hope so.
At FAI board level, one key change is that an independent director will be chairperson of the board, a position long reserved for the president. The changes would also achieve a better expertise balance between the football and business needs of the association. There is a target to achieve an improved gender balance with four women directors within two years. The chief executive will no longer be a member of the board.
Some of the changes will be straightforward, but others will be fraught with difficulty
The report recommends that an interim board, under new composition and appointment procedures, be put in place for one year. This makes sense, as not all the changes can take place at the forthcoming agm. A new FAI constitution and FAI rule book need to be developed and this will take time. The interim board also allows for the impact of the various ongoing investigations to be taken into account before everything is finalised.
I do not believe the new board can be put into position at the agm on July 22nd. The report recommends that the new president and vice-president should be elected by the agm. What is the procedure for nomination? The other six “football” board members will still be approved by an extended FAI council but determined in four constituencies: national league (2), amateur football (2), underage football (1) and other football entities (1). It will take time for these new procedures to take effect. It will also take time to identify and select the four independent expert directors. What happens in the interval?
The report does not make many overt criticisms of the FAI but the fact that there are 78 recommendations suggests that there was much that was wrong. Perhaps the most trenchant statement in the report is: “No one individual should have unfettered powers of decision making.’’
The recommendations cover every area of operations from risk assessment, internal audit, compliance, communication, stakeholder relationships, grant procedures, roles and responsibilities, realignment of the committee structure and revised executive structure. The list is extensive. Some of the changes will be straightforward, but others will be fraught with difficulty.
Another important change is on tenure of members of the FAI board and council: eight years for board members and 10 years for council members. Existing council members with 10 or more years can stay for a further three years. With this provision, I question how many new people will be appointed next month.
An element I like is the proposal that the governance reform filter down from the parent association, to its affiliates, leagues and clubs. This would be a major task and should form part of the implementation strategy.
I have two concerns: first whether the full report will be endorsed by the agm and second whether after the agm the reforms will be fully implemented. Hopefully, the impact of four independent directors will ensure that selective and partial implementation will be avoided.
The baton is now passed back to the FAI to oversee implementation of the reforms. The only stick is the suspension of the Sport Ireland grants. The report recommends 16 immediate and short-term priorities, among which is the establishment of an implementation oversight group. Some external expertise should be appointed to this group. Their first task will be to draft an implementation plan for all 78 recommendations in the report. If the Sport Ireland grants are restored on acceptance of the report, I trust this will be conditional on all the recommendations being implemented within the 12-month time frame.
My main criticism of the report is that some changes, such as re-composition of general meetings and the FAI council to reflect the modern realities of football are pushed out into the future. In the short term, the size of the council is increased by 21 members. This will leave existing archaic power blocks in situ. Is this for tactical political reasons: to reduce potential opposition to the changes? The report calls for a reduction in and revised composition of the council by 2020 and suggests that “similar work in relation to role and membership of the agm should be undertaken in the near future”. Significant change in these bodies is needed but is unlikely, unless there is continued external pressure for change.
One point of interest is that involvement of new groups in the FAI is proposed for council level rather than board level. Along with increased representation for women’s football and the underage game, delegates from supporters groups and professional players are introduced. There is a suggestion that coaches, manager and recreational football groups could be considered in the future.
There are a lot of positives in the report. If all 78 recommendations are implemented, then a new FAI will emerge. The reform should not stop there. Part of the shift in culture identified as required is the need for continual change. This depends on the people involved. It depends on the current people accepting that, in the interest of football, change needs to be accepted even if it reduces or eliminates their personal role. Let everyone put football first.
Brendan Menton is a former general secretary of the FAI (2000-2002). He is also a former chief economist for AIB