Reluctant FAI to reform board but little sign of change on the financial front
In future, most of board members will be allowed to serve just two four-year terms
John Delaney: the FAI chief executive is currently midway through his 18th year as a director with the association. Photograph: Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile
Having resisted the reform of its board for many years and previously extended age limits in order allow veteran directors to remain on in their positions, the FAI will fall into line with the Governance Code for Community, Voluntary and Charitable Organisations by changing its rules at a specially convened EGM on Monday.
How much the organisation’s culture actually changes remains to be seen, however.
Monday’s meeting will vote through changes across quite a few areas, including the protection of referees, with beefed up sanctions on those who abuse or assault match officials to be confirmed in the wake of November’s appalling attack on Daniel Sweeney in Westmeath.
Most of the outside attention, though, has focused on the alterations being made to the way the association governs itself, with term limits that come within the code endorsed by Sport Ireland the key change.
In future, the majority of board members will be allowed to serve just two four-year terms. The rules are slightly different when it comes to the organisation’s president and vice-president but the net effect will be the same. FAI chief executive, John Delaney, currently midway through his 18th year as a director, is apparently unaffected by the changes about to be made.
The FAI, though, is not rushing into anything. More than half the board, six of those on it by virtue of chairing one of the association’s key committees, including 73-year-old Jim McConnell from Donegal, who joined in January 2004, will have the option of running for one more four-year term when their current stint is up
The association’s treasurer and secretary, Eddie Murray and Michael Cody, both 79, will not. The rules had previously been changed in order to allow them to continue in their roles but both will, it seems, make way as their terms expire over the next couple of years.
There will be some satisfaction in Government circles that the association is finally falling into line, albeit slowly, having boldly hinted at one point that it might reject public funding rather than be told how to run its own affairs. Given the financial situation out in Abbotstown, that notion was always rather fanciful.
Delaney has always sought to paint the association’s finances in the most positive light but it has clearly struggled under the weight of the debt incurred in order to finance its part of the cost of redeveloping Lansdowne Road and the subsequent failure of the premier ticket scheme they had hoped would go a very long way towards funding it.
Their stated aim is currently to have cleared the debt by next year, although this only appears to be possible by using money due from its two most lucrative sponsorships – both the 3 and New Balance deals are approaching their ends – up front, something that would necessitate some form of discounting, as happened with the Aviva naming rights money and mean that the tough times continuing well beyond 2020.
In the meantime, League of Ireland clubs are currently grumbling about the latest late payment of solidarity money from Uefa, which is intended for clubs in order to support their youth development work.
Some €800,000 was made available to the FAI in October but has yet to be passed on despite the fact that it is actually made in respect of the 2017/18 season.
The association holding on to money in this sort of manner – it generally links this payment to the conclusion of its club licensing – when there appears to be no legitimate reason to do so and routinely delays the handing over of prize money earned by clubs in Europe – is nothing new but there is a suggestion that the solidarity payment currently due may be withheld for some time yet, something that has caused particular frustration around the clubs.
The latest delay is starkly at odds with the FAI’s own approach to its funding from Sport Ireland, as revealed by The Irish Sun a few weeks back on foot of information obtained under a Freedom of Information request.
The paper reported that the FAI had sought early payment of very substantial proportions of the its annual grant – 50 per cent or more – most of it before the grant had even been formally approved by the board of Sport Ireland. On each occasion, it seems, they got their money. As the new season looms, league clubs must wish that getting theirs was so easy.