Saturday 21 October 2017

Irish football's dirty linen is best washed in private

Several years ago, the FAI assisted a League of Ireland club in relation to an administrative error. John Delaney personally intervened and the issue was resolved discreetly and immediately.

There was nothing to be gained from going public on the issue, so they didn't. There would be no winners had it chosen to disclose to the media what had taken place. In fact, it would have caused great embarrassment for those involved and would possibly have led to the dismissal of the club's manager at the time.

For all the criticism it regularly gets, the FAI adopts a policy of discretion when it comes to matters of indiscipline or incompetence involving many of those within the Airtricity League. I know of countless examples of administrative errors, rule breaches or outright negligence on the part of many working at clubs, all of which are known to the FAI, and none of which have been brought into the public domain.

If the FAI was to adopt Roddy Collins' stance of expressing in public everything it believed to be true, the result would be an even greater number of negative stories surrounding the game in Ireland. Nobody anywhere could argue that such a scenario would serve the betterment of Irish football in any way.

Unhappy with the outcome of recent internal disciplinary hearings, Roddy Collins is preparing to take the FAI to the high court to defend, as he sees it, his constitutional right to give an honest view in public on any issue he likes. The FAI, citing its Rule 94, disagrees.

The discussion on RTE radio in which Roddy expressed these views also led to presenter Des Cahill being blacklisted by the FAI. The case is not just about whether Roddy's comments made sense or not, but also about whether he had the right to make them.

In one respect, Roddy is right to believe he should have the freedom to speak his mind on any issue he likes. I don't believe anything he said was particularly offensive or disparaging, and I can't see why a six-game touchline ban was put forward as an alternative to paying the original fine of €1,000. Even though a reduced fine of €500 was handed down last week by the FAI Disciplinary Unit, the case would never have gone this far had it adopted a more measured and reasonable approach from the very start.

I know from personal experience the frustration that comes with toeing a party line in public when privately I thought the opposite, but such is life in the League of Ireland. From the administration of various competitions to the performances of match officials, there were times when I wanted to rant away to the nearest microphone while I was at St Pat's.

Battles must be fought in private, and I had many of them. When you speak out, you get fined. By virtue of his role at Monaghan United Roddy became a member of the Association and is therefore subject to its rules. In that respect, the case against him seems pretty straightforward.

I don't believe the actions of the FAI in this instance are solely aimed at protecting the integrity of the League or preventing public slagging matches from becoming a regular occurrence among its members. This case is unfolding in a climate of immense over-sensitivity on its part towards everything which is said about the FAI in public.

Its press department regularly seeks corrections and clarifications from the media when their time would surely be better spent addressing other issues of real substance.

Given the nature of any debate on football, a wide range of opinions will always exist as to how best to achieve results in every area. You would assume being more accepting of this would serve them better. I know it's easy taking swipes at John Delaney at times, but someone in his position should surely be big enough to take criticism of the FAI from anyone, Roddy Collins included.

Challenging the legality of the rule is an ambitious exercise, and presumably a costly one. If Roddy were to succeed, and all were free to speak as they wish, the onslaught of public criticism flying from all sides would surely damage the reputation of the League even further. In Irish football there are so many petty grudges and personality clashes that I believe the rule acts very effectively in protecting the organisation from itself. Unfortunately sometimes, even their own rules can't save them.

rsadlier@independent.ie

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