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The FAI millions: where they come from and how they’re spent

The Football Association of Ireland is supposed to ‘promote, foster and develop’ the game in Ireland, but its spends far more on its own staff than it does on grassroots clubs

Level playing field?: in 2013 the FAI had an income was €36.7 million, with a surplus of almost €9 million. It gave grassroots affiliates €1.1 million in development and operating grants. Illustration: Maciej Frolow/Getty
Fifa loan: John Delaney, head of the FAI, accepted €5 million from Sepp Blatter. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

When John Delaney of the Football Association of Ireland admitted recently that the organisation he heads had accepted a €5 million loan from Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, he didn’t just draw the attention of an Oireachtas committee and the world’s press. He also brought into focus his association’s byzantine finances.

The payment, made in January 2010 after the Republic of Ireland controversially lost a World Cup qualifier to France, helped to pay the FAI’s bill for redeveloping Lansdowne Road. Recorded in the FAI’s accounts as an interest-free loan, it was later written off, as agreed, when Ireland failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, in Brazil.

Earlier this month attempts to bring Delaney before the Oireachtas committee on tourism and sport, to answer questions about the payment, failed after most of its members lost their initial enthusiasm. Some later said publicly that they had been contacted by Delaney.

“There were overtures,” says Tom Fleming, the Independent TD, who still favours inviting Delaney in. “We were all contacted in some shape or form by the FAI prior to our meeting. We just wanted a bit of accountability in the FAI’s use of public monies. I think it’s only fair. We are talking about taxpayers’ money.”

Soccer is the most popular sport in Ireland. The FAI often quotes a figure of 450,000 players, coaches and administrators involved in the game. The sums involved have not gone unnoticed at clubs around the country.

The FAI’s most recently published accounts, for 2013, show an income of €36.7 million, with a surplus of almost €9 million. The association provided €1.1 million in development and operating grants to grassroots affiliates, down from €2.2 million in 2005. Given the association’s professed aim to “promote, foster and develop” the game in Ireland, its low funding of grassroots bodies rankles with many.

“The only funding available is from Government grants, every few years,” says the chairman of a sizeable Munster club, one of several people unwilling to speak publicly. “Everything we do we pay for ourselves,” he adds. “The FAI seem to spend a lot of money on salaries. They’re corporate, a different world to us.”

With just over €1 million spent directly on grassroots affiliates, where did the rest of the FAI’s €37 million go? In 2013 it spent €2 million on the Republic of Ireland men’s and women’s underage teams, from under-21 to under-15. It’s unclear how much of this went on wages, as the FAI accounts don’t break the figure down. Overall in 2013, however, the FAI spent €9.55 million on staff.

It also spent €5 million servicing debts related to its €72 million share of the construction of the Aviva Stadium. This debt reached €63 million in 2012, dropping to €50 million in the latest accounts, partly as a result of the €5 million Fifa loan. The FAI is due to repay €20 million of this debt by 2018, another €26.5 million after that.

Vantage Club

And in addition to receiving only small sums from the FAI, grassroots clubs have actually funded FAI ventures themselves.

At the association’s headquarters, in Abbotstown in west Dublin, work is drawing to a close on pitches and dressingrooms that the Ireland team will use for training before the Euro 2016 qualifier against Georgia, in September. These six pitches have been built thanks to grants from the Irish Sports Council and Fifa, totalling €888,000, paid in 2012. They have also been made possible by a €500,000 contribution from Dublin District Schoolboys League – a sum funded by the registrations of schoolboy players, aged from six to 15, and in return for which the league will be able to use the pitches.

“It’s all a bit backwards,” says Antonio Mantero, a Castleknock FC coach and author of the Coach Diary blog (which you can read at thecoachdiary.com). “The top are meant to be sending the money down, and all of a sudden the bottom are actually the ones providing the money. There’s definitely something wrong there.”

For most club officials interviewed for this article, the €5 million Fifa payment isn’t as much of an issue as what the FAI spends the rest of its money on.

The association recently spent €6,750 shredding Ireland-Scotland match programmes, to get rid of comments Delaney had written about Blatter and corruption, before printing new ones. “Let’s just say we could have done with some of that €6,750,” says the treasurer of one Munster club. “We get zero financial assistance from the FAI or our league. All we seem to be doing is paying them, in registration fees and fines. Clubs are going to the wall and the head of our association is getting €360,000 a year.”

Indeed, Delaney’s remuneration, which is almost twice that of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, has been criticised as inordinate at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee.

The FAI pays just €100,000 to the League of Ireland champions, and Cork Schoolboys League, which represents 52 clubs and almost 7,000 youngsters, receives only €5,000 a year for its interleague teams. “We took a squad to Cologne recently, and the Germans couldn’t believe our players had to pay for themselves,” says Pat Mawe of the Cork league.

Unlike the Irish Rugby RFUFootball Union, the FAI does not pay its players’ main salaries. It does, however, pay them qualification bonuses and match fees. The international management team of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, meanwhile, earn salaries that have been reported as being up to €1.2 million and €700,000 a year. Substantial parts of these are paid by the businessman Denis O’Brien.

Although it is a private company, the FAI retains substantial control over public funds. In 2013 it received almost €350,000 from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, €42,000 from the Department of Foreign Affairs and €42,390 from the Department of the Environment. In its accounts the FAI says these funds were used “for the purpose they were intended”.

The FAI also receives public funds from the Irish Sports Council – €2.4 million in 2014, down from €2.8 million in 2013. The council says that, of that €2.4 million grant, €2.29 million paid for FAI staff in grassroots education, player development, and central and regional development programmes. The council stresses that the grant was not used for “high-performance” salaries or for people in the professional game.

Council board members haven’t always been happy with the way the FAI describes its use of public funds. In 2011 one of them, John Byrne, emailed his fellow directors Jim Glennon and Susan Ahern, questioning the accuracy of presentations that the FAI had made to it. Byrne, who was also an FAI employee from 2004 to 2011, called them “claptrap” and “more smoke and mirrors from the FAI”.

When the FAI lodged a complaint, the Irish Sports Council appointed Paul Appleby, the former director of corporate enforcement, to investigate Byrne’s emails. The High Court later ruled that the council had no power to investigate one of its own board, saying that any such inquiry carried “a whiff of sulphur”. Byrne has since left the board of the council, and now heads the HSE Community Games.

The council says that it regularly audits the uses of its funding to the FAI and other organisations. The FAI says that twice a year it gives the council details of what it has spent the money on, including school initiatives, coach education, and social inclusion and intercultural programmes.

Lottery money

National Lottery

Late last year the FAI asked Minister of State for Sport Michael Ring for “special one-off” funding of €1.2 million. One of the six projects to receive this money was Westport United FC, in Ring’s home town. The FAI and the Minister of State both stressed at the time that the projects were chosen by the FAI board alone.

Relationship

Asked about grassroots funding, the FAI points to its role in providing (government) grants to clubs. It says it also provides clubs with €1 million through the Irish Football National Draw, under which clubs buy FAI fundraising tickets for €1.50 and sell them on for €10, and other initiatives, such as the Summer Soccer Schools programme (€300,000) and the John Giles Foundation.

John Delaney’s predecessor, Fran Rooney, believes the FAI’s central role in allocating public funds stifles debate within the association. “People at council are afraid to criticise or vote against the management, in case their clubs lose out on lottery money,” he says. “Like all involved in football, I would call for greater transparency in relation to the direct allocation of revenues to the grassroots.”

In response, the FAI said that clubs and leagues apply for Sport Capital grants directly through the department, using the Online Sports Capital Register. In a statement it added: “Staff costs are a part of the costs of running any programmes as is the case for other [sporting bodies]. The funding provided by the Irish Sports Council equates to approximately one third of the actual cost of running these programmes. This funding has nothing to do with grants to affiliates.”

In Sligo in three weeks the FAI will hold its AGM, John Delaney’s 11th in charge. Last year’s AGM saw no questions from members. “A lot of people in the FAI are afraid to talk, afraid their clubs will be punished financially,” says Tom Fleming TD. “There is a fear element within the soccer community. If the AGMs are run in the way that no questions are asked . . . people who are keeping the game going are left out from having a say.”

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