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FAI commits to honouring €1.9m in promised grants

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FAI Chief Executive Jonathan Hill. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FAI Chief Executive Jonathan Hill. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

FAI Chief Executive Jonathan Hill. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The FAI is working its way through a backlog of €1.9m worth of promises to Irish football clubs and associations in development grants for clubhouses and pitches made by former chief executive John Delaney.

FAI officials revealed the sum as Delaney’s successor, Jonathan Hill, met the media last week for the first time since taking over as the boss of the stricken Association last November.

Despite current debts of €76m, the FAI have honoured, or will honour, the promises made to clubs and regional organisations by Delaney.

One example is a €100,000 grant that was outstanding towards the redevelopment of MacSharry Park in Sligo and has now been paid. But the FAI could find no paperwork relating to a promise of a grant made by Delaney at a civic reception in Sligo in June 2018.

“We are working our way through these claims, we have been in touch with everyone affected,” added an FAI spokesman.

Delaney, who is under investigation by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, left the FAI in 2019 after serving for almost 15 years as its chief executive. Hill made it clear on Friday that those days are gone in his new-look FAI.

“Would I be happy being part of an organisation that didn’t have those checks and balances for senior people within the organisation, be it the CEO or board members? No, I wouldn’t. I don’t think that is a sensible place for any modern or progressive organisation to be in.

“I am comforted now by having the support of some really excellent people, particularly within the independent level within our board. And the audit and risk compliance structure that we have, we are really getting to grips with all of those processes. I can safely say that nothing like that will ever happen again.”

Having lost mobile phone company 3 as their main sponsor last year, the FAI are now open to “a small but growing, hungry, digitally-aware Irish company” taking over as their main sponsor.

Hill said that while he would love to have a blue chip company as the national team’s main sponsor, he is willing to look at alternatives.

The FAI’s new man used to work for the English FA, who, famously, 25 years ago, came on board with Green Flag, a small, emergency car repair company, as the England team sponsor — to show to the market the massive commercial power of their national team. It worked hugely well for the small company, with Green Flag growing their market share massively.

Could the FAI repeat the trick? “In this Covid world, we have to be conscious of companies’ budgets for marketing and sponsorship,” Hill said. “Usually, from the first meeting with a potential sponsor to signing the contract takes a minimum of six months, more often a year. In these times, we have to be realistic about sponsors coming on board. I’m ruling nothing in or out. Yes, we could go down that small company road, if it was the right fit for us.”

But the FAI will not be getting into bed with any betting company after the new man presented a paper to the FAI board on the pros and cons of having one as their main sponsor. The board then decided not to take that path.

Hill also accepted that the issue of ‘blowback’ from potential partners, because of the FAI’s recent history, is there.

“Can I say, hand on heart, that the past is not an issue? No. Would I prefer if the FAI was only on the backpages of the newspapers, not the front, not being referenced in court cases? Yes. But the Irish football team is the one sporting team that can get the whole country behind it when it is going well.

“This is a special year,” added Hill, “the first time ever that a World Cup qualifying campaign will be played over one calendar year. It’s going to be hugely exciting.”

Hill cut an impressive figure as he reviewed the current state of Irish football and where he intends to lead it.

“I have my own style of doing any job. It is to be honest and open with people, and I see it as a privilege to be involved in football. I’m a straight-talking, straight-dealing, Yorkshire man and that’s the way I do my business.”

Meanwhile, the FAI will let FIFA deal with controversial boxing management agency MTK Global if their proposed move into football comes to pass.

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“FIFA have very firm, strict and clearly laid out rules in relation to intermediaries,” said Hill. “We follow those, we have our own rules and regulations that reflect them. We have our own processes in place. We have four existing registered intermediaries in Ireland at the moment and you have to go through due process, that’s financial, it involves face-to-face interviews and Garda vetting. That’s done on an annualised basis”

MTK Global has a growing stable of professional boxers on its books, but is shrouded in controversy because of links with Daniel Kinahan, identified in the Irish High Court as leading a criminal gang.

MTK Global would have to go through a number of hoops with FIFA to get an agents’ licence.

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