Mick Wallace calls on Fifa and Uefa to intervene over FAI governance
MEP concerned over role ‘Visionary Group’ may have had in formulating memorandum
Irish MEP Mick Wallace has written to the presidents of both Uefa and Fifa over the governance of the FAI. Photograph: Eric Luke
Irish MEP Mick Wallace has written to the presidents of both Fifa and Uefa asking them to intervene in the ongoing controversy over the proposal to hand overall control of the FAI’s board to outside appointees, claiming that the move would be “another disaster” for the Irish game.
In a strongly worded letter, Wallace lays out the reform process pursued last year at the crisis-hit association as the scale of its problems started to become clear and the Government pushed for a major overhaul.
He points out that all sides gave their approval to a process that Sport Ireland was a key party to and which was generally agreed at the time to meet standards of governance “best practice”.
He describes as “bizarre” the way the agreement that followed looks likely to be set aside to be replaced by a memorandum which, he suggests, members of the “Visionary Group” may have had a key role in formulating.
At the very least, he contends, an investigation by the Institute of Public Affairs should be undertaken to establish who was behind the key element of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), that six members of a 12-strong board be outside appointees and that the independent chair should retain the casting vote, something that has generated considerable rancour within the game.
Wallace, a council member himself and the driving force behind Wexford FC when it joined the League of Ireland more than a decade ago, does not make any issue of the clauses in the MoU that relate to term limits at the FAI’s council, changes that could result in something approaching a third of its membership having to depart almost immediately. He does suggest that the two international federations to which the FAI is affiliated “cannot sit idly by allowing the Government and the civil servants to have non-football people in control of the football association”.
He describes the influence wielded within the association by Visionary Group members Roy Barrett, Gary Owens and Niall Quinn as independent chair, interim chief executive and interim deputy chief executive respectively as “an effective takeover” and claims that the six versus six element of the MoU opens “the opportunity for external private interests on the decision-making of Irish football”.
The former TD goes on to ask a series of specific questions relating to the creation of the MoU which, he insists, need to be answered. The key theme, one widely mentioned in football circles, is the need for clarity on precisely whose idea the proposed six and six board make-up actually was.
The belief, even among some elected FAI board members, it seems, is that it came from the association’s own independent directors who lacked any mandate on the issue.
Concluding his letter, Wallace writes: “I am calling on you both, Gianni & Alexander to be Presidents of FIFA & UEFA that protect football from external influence. Please sit down with the Irish government to ensure that all the promised reforms wished for by everybody are achieved without standing by and watching Irish football go from one disaster into another that can be potentially far worse for the sport.”
It is not clear how either body might respond. Fifa’s regulations are supposed to protect member associations from outside political interference but both organisations will be wary of interfering themselves when so much public money had had to be poured into the FAI in order to ensure its financial survival.
The move, though, maintains the focus on a controversy the current leadership of the association has not done much to address, at least in public.
Former FAI chief executive Brendan Menton, a longtime critic of John Delaney’s time at the association, has argued that clarification should be provided on what changed between the publication of the Governance Review Group’s report last June and the agreement of the MoU in January.
Over the weekend, meanwhile, former Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Sport Marc MacSharry wrote that he does “not believe what has transpired in the FAI over the last year meets an acceptable standard of the principles of governance”.