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The FAI can expect more flak from rival codes over financial bail-out – and it's justified

Daniel McDonnell


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Basketball Ireland General Secretary Bernard O’Byrn

Basketball Ireland General Secretary Bernard O’Byrn

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Basketball Ireland General Secretary Bernard O’Byrn

This was always going to happen. The history of Irish sport made it an absolute certainty that the FAI’s rescue deal would fire up other codes into a reaction.

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It's a reflection of the climate that exists when it comes to funding in these parts.

For all that sport is a part of Ireland's national discussion, there has never really been a progressive strategy to recognise this reality in a satisfactory way. It always tends to be reactive.

Our parish-pump political system has allowed the dispensation of grants and monies to become about personalities rather than participants.

And that has always bred the suspicion that any sporting body taking funds from the public purse is doing so at the expense of a competitor. It's always a contest, and we can all get sucked into the language of whataboutery.

In an ideal world, sport would be a standalone ministerial department, and not lumped in with the significant briefs of tourism and transport.

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Minister of State Brendan Griffin (l), with FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens, Minister for Sport, Shane Ross TD, and FAI Interim Deputy Chief Executive Niall Quinn, pictured last Thursday at the announcement of the FAI's financial rescue package. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Minister of State Brendan Griffin (l), with FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens, Minister for Sport, Shane Ross TD, and FAI Interim Deputy Chief Executive Niall Quinn, pictured last Thursday at the announcement of the FAI's financial rescue package. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

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Minister of State Brendan Griffin (l), with FAI Interim Chief Executive Gary Owens, Minister for Sport, Shane Ross TD, and FAI Interim Deputy Chief Executive Niall Quinn, pictured last Thursday at the announcement of the FAI's financial rescue package. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

In an ideal world, municipal stadiums and shared facilities would be the norm as opposed to the exception.

But we do not operate in an ideal world.

And that is why the backlash to the FAI's rescue deal is completely predictable.

The FAI delegation naturally couldn't disguise their enthusiasm last Thursday when they spoke of the package they had secured which had done more than just take them off life support. It had given them a small bit of breathing space.

While UEFA and the banks played a significant part, headlines about a €19m state commitment indicated a positive change in relations.

For all that, Ministers Shane Ross and Brendan Griffin wanted to avoid the term 'bail-out', it didn't seem out of place given the importance of the deal for protecting jobs.

And a problem for the perception of the arrangement is that the FAI have yet to fully release all of the reports that were commissioned to examine their behaviour.

The ODCE enquiry could take years rather than months. Controversial figures from the old regime have been spotted jetting in and out of airports and getting on with life.

Blazers have fallen on their sword, but it's a stretch to suggest there has been proper accountability for what unfolded.

There may be a fresh set of FAI faces at the wheel, but they have to accept the flak that comes their way.

Taxpayer funds being diverted towards an Association which has made a mess of their finances – and paid ludicrous amounts to its former chief executive – is contentious subject matter.

The statement from Basketball Ireland and subsequent comments from their CEO Bernard O'Byrne are hard to quibble with.

In their lowest moment, players suffered and staff lost jobs while they were barred from seeking capital funding for five years.

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FAI Interim Deputy Chief Executive Niall Quinn

FAI Interim Deputy Chief Executive Niall Quinn

SPORTSFILE

FAI Interim Deputy Chief Executive Niall Quinn

The fact that their international players have to fundraise for the honour of wearing the shirt sits uncomfortably in a week where the Sunday Times detailed that Ireland number three Robbie Keane was awarded a €150k contract by John Delaney for his first year in the job.

Now, football shouldn't be shy about extolling the virtues of what it can do for the country.

It is the biggest participation sport, and it runs programmes that benefit individuals in all sections of society, so there is weight in the argument that it has been underfunded.

The penny has finally dropped that there are hundreds of people in the League of Ireland who rely on income from football; another interest group on top of embattled FAI staff.

It was important that they didn't pay for the mistakes of those individuals who brought disgrace on the game.

Punishing them to warn other organisations about making similar mistakes wouldn't have been palatable. But handing a parachute allows those bodies who have behaved themselves to rightfully lobby for a reward.

Niall Quinn did make the point last week that football can pay the state back.

A successful football team can generate a serious amount of revenue, and this summer's Euros will bring a lot of business to Dublin.

Similarly, massive international match nights can make the country tick and if Mick McCarthy's team can make the finals, the benefits will be substantial.

O'Byrne acknowledged those points yesterday.

He's in an unusual position as a former FAI chief executive who left due to a credit card-related query that is small, small fry compared to the revelations of the past ten months.

However, he hasn't resorted to score-settling language in outlining the frustrations of the basketball fraternity.

Their missive lists the service they offer communities - especially in schools - and anyone who has attended their national cup finals will know the potential that exists.

Maybe there's no votes in pushing their valid claims. That, in itself, sums up all that is wrong with our way of doing sporting business.

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