Monday 20 January 2020

FAI: We'll pull plug if we don't get €18m deal

Fears for staff wages next month

Association says sorry for mistakes

Crisis: Former FAI chief executive John Delaney. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Crisis: Former FAI chief executive John Delaney. Picture: Steve Humphreys

John Fallon and Hugh O'Connell

Football Association of Ireland (FAI) chiefs starkly admit they cannot guarantee staff salaries next month, as the organisation stares into the financial abyss.

Delegates attending an agm were told the beleaguered association is facing potential liquidation, unless it secures a financial deal.

Executive lead Paul Cooke insisted the new FAI directors would not trade “recklessly” and would not continue unless it was a “going concern”.

It means unless €18m is sourced urgently, the FAI’s 210 staff could be left without wages.

“As of today, we are engaged in discussions with everybody, but if we saw there was no future then as directors we have a decision to make.

“There are other creditors out there, we are incurring other liabilities so if we are not in a position to see ourselves as a going concern, we cannot continue, it doesn’t matter what’s due when,” he said.

“There’s one thing you need to remember here: while we’re looking for €18m, this is €18m that our plans show that we can pay back.”

Sports Minister Shane Ross last night said he didn’t want to see the FAI enter examinership or liquidation. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said they would not let the FAI fail, but a blank cheque would not be provided.

Last night the FAI issued a public apology "for the mistakes of the past".

Mr Cooke confessed that its bailout hopes now rest on upcoming "roundtable" multi-party discussions between the Government, the Bank of Ireland and Uefa.

But Mr Cooke, a chartered accountant, posted a grim outlook to members at Citywest, revealing liabilities of €62m and rising.

Warnings of examinership or even liquidation were issued as the dire state of FAI finances became even clearer.

Mr Cooke suggested its banking partners are amenable to a rescue package but the deal is contingent on buy-in from the State and Uefa.

"If we don't see ourselves as a going concern, we cannot continue," said Mr Cooke.

"The seven new directors of this organisation have a responsibility to ensure we can look ahead and pay our way, including wages for staff.

"If we cannot foresee that due to the lack of long-term funding, that throws everything into question.

"We are engaged in discussions with everybody but, if there was no future, then as directors we have a decision to make."

Included in the FAI's liabilities is €29m due to Bank of Ireland for the Aviva Stadium and €6m owed to Sports Direct.

Mike Ashley's sportswear company is currently being repaid €100,000 per month after a deal during John Delaney's stewardship went awry.

Mr Cooke outlined the impact of the FAI going out of business - confirming the Euro 2020 play-off against Slovakia would be in doubt.

"Liquidation is the nuclear option," he noted. "There would be no international matches and at a minimum uncertainty over our League of Ireland clubs participating in European competitions arises. All of our commercial deals would be over.

"Examinership, from a footballing perspective, is preferable. Creditors wouldn't get paid but you have to have a viable financial plan for that."

The possibility of the FAI's stake in the Aviva Stadium being sold or forming part of collateral wasn't ruled out.

Given the Irish Rugby Football Union has dismissed any notion of buying out its co-owner, a deal with the Government is essential.

But even within that business plan, cost savings - including redundancies - are expected. Staff are braced for bad news after Mr Cooke warned of tough decisions.

"What our staff have gone through over the past year has been horrendous," he said. "How they've kept functioning I do not know.

"We will keep staff informed because they need to be kept motivated. If this is dragging on longer, we will meet them."

Mr Cooke confirmed the €18m bailout figure that Mr Ross had cited following a meeting between the parties on December 16.

Despite the minister ruling out a direct bailout, a further meeting was held four days later.

He said Mr Ross was "not unreceptive" to collaborating on their business plan.

The Sports Minister is due to meet with Uefa, which has been funding the FAI since the cash crisis kicked off in March, on January 14. State funding to the FAI remains suspended since April.

Later last night Mr Ross issued a statement saying: "Over the Christmas period Minister Brendan Griffin and I have been moving with other stakeholders to find a solution to the crisis that includes an acceleration in the pace of reform, the future of government funding, above all, a more secure outlook for FAI staff and certainty that grassroots football does not suffer.

"A radical change in the FAI culture is essential to underpin other reforms. The long-awaited appointment of an independent chair and three other independent directors, expected in the very near future, should provide the necessary impetus for a new confidence in the reform process.

"In early January, Minister Griffin and I expect to meet Uefa, representatives of all League of Ireland clubs, spokespeople for the trades unions, directors of the FAI and other stakeholders in pursuit of a solution that avoids liquidation or examinership but secures the future of Irish football."

The apology statement from the FAI, when it came later yesterday evening, read: "The board has tonight issued an apology to the hundreds of thousands involved with Irish football at all levels of the game, to the Irish public and to FAI staff."

Irish Independent

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