Belfast Telegraph

FAI's record of false starts sees reform doubts remain

Old foes: Glentoran’s Curtis Allen takes on Shamrock Rovers’ Dean Kelly in 2014
Old foes: Glentoran’s Curtis Allen takes on Shamrock Rovers’ Dean Kelly in 2014

By Daniel McDonnell

The timing was remarkable. As members of the press arrived for the launch of the Governance Review Group report at FAI HQ, the car park sign for the 'Chief Executive' was in the process of being removed.

John Delaney's name was off limits in the three-hour briefing that followed, but the document that was published on a sunny Friday morning lays out the roadmap for a number of his long-term allies to end their FAI journey.

They just have to vote for it first.

There are a lot of words and recommendations in the 130-page production that joins the anthology of FAI-centred blueprints.

What's striking about this version is the finality.

We already knew that the FAI board's days were numbered, even if one or two might hang in there for another year despite the protests of that well known football revolutionary Shane Ross.

What we now know is that FAI Council members that have served for more than a decade can only stick around for three more years.

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Given that the list of Council members would provide most of the necessary characters for a stage re-enactment of Irish football administration's Reeling In The Years, then that's quite a departure - pardon the pun.

President Donal Conway, who has conceded that he will not see out his ceremonial four-year term, acknowledged that a roadshow selling this idea might just face some uncomfortable moments.

"That would be one aspect of the challenge," he admitted.

Turkeys voting for Christmas springs to mind. Of course, turkeys might have made more noise at recent general meetings than the FAI's delegates so it's hard to sympathise.

And the alternative is not exactly attractive either.

State funding will likely remain suspended if fewer than 140 out of 206 attendees at July's AGM say yes to the proposals. That jeopardises important capital projects around the country. Opponents of the plan would need to lay out coherent reasons for their stance that go beyond accusations of self interest. What has changed is the concept that a seat around the FAI's top tables is a reward for years of service. That is the language that has accompanied recent appointments.

The introduction of new layers below the new 12-person board carves up areas that used to be handled en masse by the old hierarchy.

Ultimately, the point was made that an Association with a turnover of over €50m should have business people making business decisions. There should be an internal audit system, for example. A qualified person should be assigned to the role of company secretary.

It wasn't mentioned yesterday but it's fair to say that if the honorary treasurer doesn't know how many bank accounts there are, then the system probably isn't working so well.

There is no honorary secretary or honorary treasurer any more. It could be argued that Michael Cody and Eddie Murray were irreplaceable.

On paper, a lot of the reforms read well, but Review Group chair Aidan Horan acknowledged that it comes down to behaviour and attitudes.

This is fair enough as sections of the Genesis Report read well on paper and then weren't implemented.

The FAI have managed to bring first Roy Keane and then Mick McCarthy back into the fold before embracing the concept of independent directors.

Gender balance proposals will play well with the public, but the females brought into positions of power have to be new faces too - some names mentioned have been in or around the FAI during the past decade or so.

Perhaps some of the leading figures in the senior women's strike of 2017 should be sought out for opinions.

Indeed, the addition of just two player representatives to the FAI Council seems low, although there were suggestions that the make-up of that body will be reviewed in time.

We will wait for actions to follow words.

A track record for false starts has earned the FAI the sceptical reaction to promises of progress. Conway said he wanted the FAI to be viewed as a 'gold standard' for governance. They've a fair bit of work to do to get to bronze.

Between now and the July 27 AGM, there's more reports to come. Professional services firm Mazars are due to deliver an initial update. The probe into the cyber attack needs to be completed.

Sport Ireland are due back in the Dail within the next month. Their chief, John Treacy, was present yesterday and admitted that it may be the other side of the summer before the implications of the audit they have commissioned becomes clear - he also hinted they share Minister Ross' concerns regarding Noel Mooney as a stopgap.

Crucially, Conway confirmed that big decisions on financial sustainability are coming down the tracks.

Proclamations that the FAI could be debt free by 2020 have been replaced by the admission that Aviva Stadium borrowings might not even be paid off by 2030.

If an academic sits down in the distant future and tries to chronologically map the history of the FAI through the prism of the speeches at the AGM, then 2019 will deliver a plot twist to rival Bobby Ewing taking a shower.

It remains to be seen if this process will bring the FAI back to life.

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