FAI’s €5m Fifa payment not apparent in published accounts

Avoiding legal dispute on the back of Thierry Henry’s handball given as reason for ‘legitimate agreement’

 

Fifa has confirmed it made a €5 million payment to the FAI in the wake of Ireland’s controversial failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Yet, despite repeated criticisms by chief executive John Delaney of Sepp Blatter and the game’s world governing body’s lack of transparency, there is no specific reference to the Fifa payment in any of the FAI’s published accounts.

For the second time in the space of a week while speaking on RTÉ radio, Delaney claimed that the money was in settlement of a legal dispute arising out of the Paris play-off incident, but he failed to elaborate on how a refereeing error could have given rise to any such claim.

Fifa also link the money to the controversial defeat by France but in a statement issued on Thursday night it described the money as a loan, made to help with the construction costs of the Aviva stadium.

It added that the sum was written off when Ireland failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

No reference

Delaney made no reference at any point that the money might have to be paid back. Having all but acknowledged the receipt of the money when speaking on radio to Ray D’Arcy, he said: “I’ll tell you exactly what happened there. We felt we had a legal case against Fifa because of how the World Cup hadn’t worked out for us because of the Henry handball.

“Also the way Blatter behaved if you remember on stage, having a snigger, having a laugh at us . . . So that day when I went in, I told him how I felt about him, there were some expletives used.

“We came to an agreement. That was a Thursday and on the Monday the agreement was all signed and all done. It was a good agreement for the FAI, a very legitimate agreement for the FAI.”

The day after the Thierry Henry incident, Delaney said in relation to the controversy and its aftermath: “It’s not about the money. This is about sporting integrity.”

This take on the financial arrangement is, in any case, slightly at odds with the version of the story that was first carried by the Irish Sun last summer.

Second Captains

The story appeared in the paper’s Sunday edition of July 13th.

The article states: “A source told the Irish Sun: Fifa wanted this row to go away. They feared the FAI delegation could raise the issue at Fifa congress in South Africa, deflecting from what should have been a good news story. The feeling at the FAI was that Blatter had embarrassed himself . . . Fifa provided money to try to heal the rift.”

Keep FAI quiet

The suggestion in this account is that the payment was essentially just to keep the FAI quiet, an incredible amount for Fifa to hand over for those purposes.

Asked about the money last week by Gavin Jennings on Morning Ireland, in the context of his repeated criticisms of Blatter and calls for greater transparency at Fifa, Delaney described the issue as “confidential for the moment”.

He dismissed the suggestion that it amounted to “patronage”.

There is no suggestion of a link but the association did, in common with almost all other Uefa members, vote for the Swiss in 2011, more than a year after the money had been paid.

Blatter was not in the end opposed on that occasion because his intended rival, Mohammed bin Hammam, was disqualified over allegations of bribery. The ballot simply consisted of the president’s name with a box beside it.

Many critics of Blatter had called for associations to abstain or spoil their ballots in protest.

In the Morning Ireland interview Delaney also stated that: “We have an AGM every year, our accounts are given to the public, our members. I don’t know what more we can do in terms of being open and transparent. Our members are very happy with the way the association is being run.”

Yet there appears to be no mention in the accounts for 2009 or any of the next four years of any money coming in from Fifa, whether as a loan, grant or legal settlement.

If the money was only written off in the wake of Ireland failing to qualify for the 2014 World Cup it might only count as income in last year’s accounts which have yet to be published.

FAI statement

In a statement released on Thursday night, the FAI insisted that the payment “is fully reflected in our financial statements which are audited independently”.

This suggests that the money was included under the heading “Operating Income,” a catchall section in which just about all income not specifically required to be listed elsewhere is lumped together.

If so, it seems remarkable that such a huge sum – more than 10 per cent of total income in an average year – would not have merited a specific mention and explanation from an organisation that claims to be transparent.

Quite a few other, much smaller grants, like one for €2,600 from the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs in 2011 do get a mention and even if the money was a loan, one of that scale clearly merits inclusion and explanation under the relevant sections so that the membership would be aware of it.

Either way, the suggestion that the transfer of money like this between two football organisations should be subject to a confidentiality agreement seems entirely at odds with a stated wish for transparency.

 

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