FAI to wait until 2018 to decide on 2020 debt-free promise

John Delaney says outcome of World Cup campaign may influence debt strategy

John Delaney: “We’ve received strategic plans from 16 of the 20 league clubs and, when we get all those, the next step for the league is really important.” Photograph:  Donall Farmer/©INPHO

John Delaney: “We’ve received strategic plans from 16 of the 20 league clubs and, when we get all those, the next step for the league is really important.” Photograph: Donall Farmer/©INPHO

 

Football Association of Ireland chief executive John Delaney has revealed the association will wait until early 2018 to make a final decision on their 2020 debt-free promise.

As the organisation’s financial position deteriorated in the early part of the decade under the weight of heavy interest payments on the €70 million mortgage related to the Lansdowne Road redevelopment project, Delaney and his fellow officers remained strident in their public declaration of having the debt cleared within such a short timeframe.

That position tilted to a degree in 2014 when the chief executive reasoned that a writedown on the borrowings of €12.5 million arising from a switch of lenders enabled them to reassess their plans, contending funds could instead by invested in the game while pushing out their own deadline.

Speaking on Friday at Kilkenny Castle, where he and Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill attended the launch of the county hosting the annual general meeting on July 22nd, Delaney admitted the outcome of the current World Cup qualifying campaign may influence their debt strategy.

Stadium debt

Ireland’s run to the last-16 of the European Championships last summer banked the association €11 million, allowing them shave a chunk off the €45 million stadium debt owing at the time, and reaching Russia would earn a similar, albeit smaller, sum in bonus payments from Fifa.

“Our latest accounts [to year-end 2016] will be sent out to our members at the end of June and the banking debt is €34 million,” said Delaney, who last month was voted on to Uefa’s powerful executive committee.

“If we want to reduce the debt to zero by 2020, it is well within our compass to do. That decision on whether to clear the debt or use the funds to further develop the game will be probably made in the first quarter, even six months, of next year.

“Particularly after we know whether we qualify for the World Cup, and where we are in certain other sponsorships and naming rights for the stadium.

“If any board is going to make a decision in the first six months of next year, you want clarity around a range of matters, one being around World Cup qualification.

“I think we have always said that qualifying is a bonus and benefit but that would come into the decision-making as well.”

Hard-pressed League of Ireland clubs may well favour extending the repayment schedule if it removes the restrictions currently preventing the FAI enhancing a paltry prize pot.

Clubs scrambling

While the FAI’s own strategic plan of 2016 recommended an annual increase, no such boost was forthcoming this year, leaving clubs scrambling for half the €950,000 that was on offer back at its peak in 2008.

Defending the failure to implement this aspect of the Conroy Report, Delaney suggested the upside of switching lender from US-based Corporate Capital Trust (CCT) investment fund to Bank of Ireland should afford some scope to replenish the fund.

The accounts for 2016 are expected to show another whopping interest payment, likely to be about €4-5 million, on top of the €22 million which has drifted out of the game since the association’s failed premium ticket scheme forced them to borrow heavily from 2010.

“2016 was the last year of the interest charges outside of mainstream banking so, by the end of 2017, we’ll have our first clean year of a low interest rate,” he reasoned.

“We’ve received strategic plans from 16 of the 20 league clubs and, when we get all those, the next step for the league is really important.”

There was hardly shock in Delaney’s admission that St Patrick’s Athletic are one of the four clubs yet to submit a five-year plan for approval and funding. Upon the FAI offering €5,000 last August towards the costs of formulating a charter, a stinging statement from the Saints claimed "the FAI has utterly failed in its responsibility to the domestic game." 

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