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Saturday 25 November 2017

FAI omerta leaves many questions unanswered

Post-AGM briefing cancelled to protect 'commercial deals'

FAI chief executive John Delaney in conversation with Paraic Treanor (centre) and president Paddy McCaul at the associations AGM in Arklow
FAI chief executive John Delaney in conversation with Paraic Treanor (centre) and president Paddy McCaul at the associations AGM in Arklow
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

QUESTIONS from the floor are rare at an FAI annual general meeting and that silence was extended to the media at Saturday's gathering in Arklow.

FAI chief executive John Delaney normally holds a press conference after the main event, at which he is pressed to provide further information on the talking points that arise from the annual report.

However, the association's board decided to do things differently this year, sending out a missive early on Saturday morning to explain that the scheduled briefing had been cancelled.

Members of the media tried to approach Delaney for a comment once business concluded in the Arklow Bay Hotel, but he declined the request and FAI staff stepped in, with one official floating the prospect of some journalists being banned from future gatherings.

In his speech to the AGM, Delaney indicated that the reason for cancelling the press conference was related to ongoing commercial deals.

"As a board of management and as directors of the business, there is a corporate duty to the association to act in its best interests and sensitive commercial matters such as this fall into that category.

"We will make any such announcements public in due course, but I am sure you will understand why it is of no benefit to speak more at this juncture," he said.

"Anything we have to say is being said here and a full statement will also be made available to the media at the conclusion of the meeting."

That statement revealed that the association recorded an operating surplus of €6.2m in 2012 – a year in which the coffers were boosted by the €8m they received for Ireland's participation in the European Championship finals.

However, it failed to answer other questions that arose during proceedings. The accounts show that the FAI owed €63m at the end of 2012 – largely based of borrowings related to their commitment to the Aviva Stadium.

To date, they have been making only interest payments and are scheduled to pay the majority of the loans between 2015 and 2018.

Size

Given the substantial size of the figure, further details on the repayment strategy is one of the questions that would have been put to Delaney.

Both the chief executive and director of finance Tony Dignam stressed to delegates that the association would meet its commitment to be debt-free by 2020, citing revenue from the centralisation of UEFA TV rights as the primary source of income.

They expect in the region of €60-70m to be earned through this channel between 2014 and 2020.

Dignam added that UEFA had recently provided some money up front, in addition to providing funding through their HatTrick (local coaching development) programme.

However, while they have not budgeted for qualification for major tournaments, the prospect of qualifying for an expanded European Championship finals in 2016 and 2020 was mentioned on more than one occasion, hammering home just how important it is for the senior team to be successful.

Dignam implored delegates to spread the message of reduced ticket prices in order to build up attendances at the Aviva.

The fall in turnover in 2012 was attributed to the fact that there was only one major qualifying game in Dublin, yet Dignam indicated that further cost-cutting measures may be necessary to meet targets.

"We have taken and will continue to take difficult decisions to ensure that our costs remain in line with our operational revenues," he said.

Delaney's post-AGM silence also removed the opportunity to gain further insight into the association's views on matters not related to the finances.

He confirmed in his address that the FAI would bid to become a host city of Euro 2020 as part of UEFA's grand plan to host the tournament across the continent.

The future of Galway football is another ongoing debate and Delaney suggested that plans to have the city represented by a single club in next season's Airtricity League were "on track".

The chief executive acknowledged that Waterford United's ongoing dispute with former manager Stephen Henderson is a concern. The case is currently before the High Court and was recently adjourned until next Monday (July 29).

"We urge both the club and their former manager to engage in meaningful dialogue which is far more likely to result in a resolution than costly high-stakes brinkmanship which benefits neither party," said Delaney.

The hot topic in schoolboy football right now was the only part of business that raised comment from the floor.

Civil war is brewing at the grassroots level of the game and the FAI's decision to withdraw a proposal for a new rule relating to the distance players can travel from their home to play for a club will have done nothing to provide a pathway to peace, despite the SFAI's plans to hold an EGM at which an amendment to the current rule will be proposed.

Karl Bond, a representative of the Midlands Schoolboys League, raised his hand to say that the proposed motion should have been ruled out of order.

Delaney briefly responded, pointing out that the association had withdrawn the motion and therefore the meeting should move on.

President Paddy McCaul, who was chairing the meeting, made sure that happened by quickly progressing to the next item.

It was the only deviation from the script.

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