Sport Soccer

Sunday 4 December 2016

Richard Sadlier: Irish football has paid a high price for that €5m

The FAI had no right to that money, and FIFA had no place paying it to them

Published 07/06/2015 | 16:40

'Delaney has spoken a lot lately about the way the game should be run but he can’t say a word anymore on the subject without sounding hypocritical'
'Delaney has spoken a lot lately about the way the game should be run but he can’t say a word anymore on the subject without sounding hypocritical'

It wasn't a bribe. It was a loan of €5 million. Actually, it was a loan that didn't have to be repaid so it was basically a payment. It was absolutely above board but nobody was to hear about it.

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And there is not one person covering this story who can point to a legitimate reason why it was paid in the first place.

Welcome to the world of FIFA and the FAI.

I'm sure there are many people in this country who see this as a remarkable bit of business from a man perfectly suited to his role. In one sense, it's one of the finest strokes you're likely to see. That there appears to have been no legal basis for the FAI's claim for compensation makes it all the more impressive. Forget the details here, John Delaney made €5 million for Irish football and that's all that matters.

The flipside is equally emphatic. It was a dubious payment made under questionable circumstances which was hidden from the people who were entitled to know about it. It's an all-too-close-to-home example of the murky world of football governance destroying the credibility and reputation of the sport. The FAI had no right to that money and FIFA had no place paying it to them. Delaney has been personally tarnished for accepting it, and the fact that it was done in secret only adds to the stench of wrongdoing.

There are issues other than self-interest to consider here.

Obviously, FIFA has questions to answer about why this deal was done in the first place. Forget that it was characterised initially as a loan, the payment was entirely unwarranted. The head of the German FA rightly dismissed it as a joke. It seems it was hush money to someone who didn't need to be silenced. So what if the CEO of the FAI complains about a refereeing decision he didn't agree with? It's hardly a formidable opponent with a watertight case for payment, but those are questions for FIFA.

Former France coach Raymond Domenech said the Irish players should be outraged by the news, somehow clawing back the moral high ground for the French. Keith Andrews spoke on Newstalk on Friday about his disgust at hearing the details. "We were able to hold our heads high with dignity," he said. "That was the one comfort we all had and now that's been taken away."

The players from that night will stick to the line that for them it was only about the football. They can't say anything else. Had they been told at the time, though, or even included in the negotiations, I'm sure nobody would have denied them a share of the money. After all, if they're entitled to a percentage of profits of qualification, they are surely owed a percentage of this particular payment. They won't see a cent of it now, not that any of them will be asking for it, but you have to wonder how this has affected Delaney's standing among the current squad.

Despite how it has been spun in some circles, though, Delaney isn't guilty of selling out anyone's dreams of playing in the World Cup. That wasn't what he bargained away. That wasn't on the table in the first place, nor was the prospect of a replay of the second leg of the play-off. FIFA do appear to be inherently corrupt, but they would never be so stupid as to set such a precedent. As for Delaney's request for a wild-card entry as the 33rd team, Blatter can't be blamed for laughing at that one.

What he gave away was of greater significance. As the clamour for greater transparency and openness in football grows by the day, the FAI can no longer contribute to the campaign for change. You can't be a credible voice for reform if you have been in receipt of such a dubious payment. You don't get to run down the practices of FIFA if you have done this kind of business with them.

Delaney has spoken a lot lately about the way the game should be run but he can't say a word anymore on the subject without sounding hypocritical. Not that that's likely to stop him.

Delaney will ride out this controversy as he has done with every other. The Taoiseach Enda Kenny said his position was still tenable and the sports minister backed him also. The FAI Board is not renowned for having an opinion other than their CEO's so an internal heave is not a threat he has to consider. In any case, they had full knowledge of this payment at the time.

Untroubled by the optics of a private deal with a corrupt organisation in exchange for silence, Delaney was bullish, claiming his only regret was that he didn't ask for €10 million.

He has said many times recently that FIFA needs to be accountable and transparent. He's a man of principles alright. Maybe he just forgot to add 'unless when we can profit ourselves.'

rsadlier@independent.ie

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