Wednesday 21 August 2019

Aidan Fitzmaurice: 'Stakes are high in tense standoff that can have only one winner'


FAI president Donal Conway. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
FAI president Donal Conway. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Who will blink first in the increasingly tense standoff between the FAI and, well, just about everyone else?

The FAI has made it very clear it won't back down on its plan to have what it sees as a safe pair of hands, current president Donal Conway, remain on as president for another year as Irish football tries to drag itself out of the mire.

Despite being told by the Sports Minister, by Sport Ireland, by a batch of Oireachtas members and a lot of other people inside and outside of the game that the picture of a long-serving board member going forward for re-election as FAI president, unopposed, was a very bad look, it plans to do it anyway.

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And that could come at a very high cost as Sport Ireland, which funds the FAI to the tune of €2.9m a year, backed the call by Shane Ross for Mr Conway to withdraw.

He didn't say "or else" but Mr Ross and Sport Ireland hold the purse strings, FAI finances are stretched beyond belief and those in the so-called football family who want to see progress on halted projects like Dalymount Park and Glanmire will wonder who will lose out in this game of chicken.

The sorry state of the FAI's finances was laid bare in Committee Room 2 yesterday.

Asked by Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry whether the FAI was "solvent" at present, John Treacy from Sport Ireland said: "We can't say that, we understand that Uefa is funding them." This coming 12 months after the FAI said it could be "debt-free" by 2020.

Pádraig Ó Céidigh spoke of "train crashes", while Ruth Coppinger TD said it was a case of choosing "continuity over a clean sweep".

The FAI was not in the room to try to put up a defence as an Oireachtas committee went on the offensive yesterday. But it was made clear, again and again, that its promises of reform have not been matched by the election, unopposed, as president of Mr Conway, who has been an FAI board member of 15 years' standing.

"I think what would satisfy me, the committee and the minister, is a clean sweep of the board and nobody who is presently a board member going forward," committee chair Fergus O'Dowd said.

The FAI's survival plan stressed the need for some continuity with Mr Conway remaining on the board. That has caused a bigger problem than the FAI envisaged. Sport Ireland officials said they were "surprised" to be told by the FAI that Mr Conway would stand again because he had "gone around the country" to sell the reform process and had "calmed the waters in the FAI".

If he stays on as interim president, Mr Conway would have a major say in the selection of the independent directors on a new FAI board, so it's an important role to fill. As it stands, Mr Conway will address an FAI EGM on Saturday and then be re-elected, unopposed, as president at the AGM a week later. The fact the FAI doesn't agree that that's seen as a problem is, well, a problem.

Irish Independent

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