Lack of transparency over Delaney payment a real issue for the FAI

No mention of private funding arrangement with its own CEO in the annual accounts

John Delaney: Mr Justice Anthony Barr of the High Court said he was “satisfied that the finances of the FAI and any payment and repayment to its chief executive are matters of significant public interest”.  Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

John Delaney: Mr Justice Anthony Barr of the High Court said he was “satisfied that the finances of the FAI and any payment and repayment to its chief executive are matters of significant public interest”. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

When a handful of journalists took a trip from Dublin to Kilkenny in May 2017, the most obvious point of the exercise would have been to hear the latest take from John Delaney on the finances of the FAI.

In the end, it was predicable fare from the association’s chief executive who gave his stock speech about the organisation being debt free by 2020 if it so decided. Somehow, it seems, he omitted to mention that on that very day, it was in hock to him for 100 grand.

The fact that he, or the association, would spend perhaps half that amount on Saturday just trying to prevent the existence of that loan being reported by the Sunday Times has inevitably led to speculation about the deeper significance of the cheque he handed over to his employers in April of 2017.

Even Delaney’s explanation – of a short-term loan made to help the association over a temporary cash-flow issue, then repaid that June – now blows out of the water the countless claims made by Delaney down the years that everything out in Abbotstown was completely under control.

Rumours of ‘cash-flow issues’ at the FAI have persisted for years and recent reports of the association seeking early payment of grants from Sport Ireland, while holding on for extended periods to funds sent to it by Uefa so that the money might be passed on to desperately underfunded senior clubs, have lent weight to the widely held suspicion that for all the big talk of being debt free, it remains an organisation in at least a state of semi-crisis.

It might, at least, have eased itself out of the fuller blown one that engulfed it back around 2012 when its stadium-related debt levels were twice what they are now.

In the accounts for the year during which things got so bad that the organisation’s chief executive had to loan around a quarter of his annual salary back to his employers to tide them over for a bit, the FAI at one point bleakly references: “the current economic climate throughout the country and the common challenges faced by businesses in Ireland”.

This was published midway through 2018 but the tone suggests that while most of the rest of the country has been firmly in recovery mode for a few years now, and a couple of sectors are actually back in full-blown boom, the FAI is still suffering the after-effects of the crash.

The failure of its Premium Level 10-year ticket scheme and the related collapse in attendances at senior international games clearly hit it hard, making the financial burden of its share of redeveloping Lansdowne Road almost unsustainable.

The ill-fated Vantage Club ticketing scheme was relaunched recently at a fraction of the original cost, with Delaney publicly blaming outside advisors for the mess made of the original pricing. He and the association’s board hired them, though, then rubber-stamped recommendations that most everyone else in the game believed to be ludicrous. Delaney subsequently spent several years claiming all was well, unable, it seemed, to speak frankly about the situation because of the danger he might have to accept the blame.

Financial directors

Somebody should but both he and FAI treasurer Eddie Murray have been there for comfortably more than a decade now and despite an organisation with the Irish franchise, if you’ll excuse the terminology, for the most popular game in the world clearly struggling to make ends meet on an ongoing basis, neither has ever felt any inclination to fall on his sword.

A few financial directors have come and gone, it should be noted, the most recent of them having only departed last month, but nobody has ever publicly blamed any of them for anything.

In an average year, in any case, the association takes in a little over €8 million from commercial sponsors and significantly more from Uefa for the now pooled television rights to competitive games. The balance of its €49 million in revenue for 2017 came from ticket sales, other commercial income, some €6 million in grants of one sort or another and the same again from fees for coaching and other courses.

That latter figure is steadily rising, while money from Uefa and Fifa is more erratic, linked as some of it is to qualification, or simply the timing of major, money-spinning international tournaments.

The lack of one in 2017 may explain a drop of more than €3 million in “Grant and Subvention Income” but the fact is that the association went from having €940,000 in the bank on December 31st, 2016 to having an overdraft of €1.36 million a year later.

Barely a third of the way through that 12 month period, Delaney apparently had to make that loan, but there was no explanation then of how things had come to that. There was none in the annual accounts that followed for the period – not even, somewhat bewilderingly, an acknowledgement that it happened – and there is still none now.

In declining to grant an injunction to prevent the Sunday Times publishing on Saturday night, Mr Justice Anthony Barr of the High Court said he was “satisfied that the finances of the FAI and any payment and repayment to its chief executive are matters of significant public interest.”

The association was talking about reform again yesterday but it would do well to start by accepting the essential truth at the heart of that statement.

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