Monday 27 January 2020

'I have some skills that would be of value' - OFI President Sarah Keane offers help in solving FAI crisis

Sarah Keane: Turned around a toxic situation in Olympic Council. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Sarah Keane: Turned around a toxic situation in Olympic Council. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Harry Clarke

Olympic Federation of Ireland President Sarah Keane has suggested she would be prepared to take a position on a "crisis management committee" to try and break the deadlock in the current FAI and Government stand-off as the association battles for survival.

Keane was speaking on RTE's Sean O'Rourke show and detailed how such a committee turned around what had been the Olympic Council of Ireland after its former President Pat Hickey became embroiled in a ticketing scandal during the Rio Olympics.

"One of the things I feel helped us move forward from the Olympic Council of Ireland was we set up a crisis management committee," Keane said.

"I was on that group and we people who had the time and were prepared to look into the situation. Boards are normally strategic entities, they don't meet once a week. Generally, they would meet every two months for example. So it is challenging for people who have full-time jobs and who are also on boards to be managing a situation like this when the FAI has currently no CEO.     

"When we set up the crisis management committee, the board delegated powers to us and we got on with the business. We dealt with the various stakeholders involved and did it a little off the radar with a view to try and manage and resolve with the right advice and report back to the board. And then went out to tell people what was going on.

"It had three members, it was very tight. We had relevant advisors around us and we had power delegated to us so we were in a position to make decisions. These were reported back to the board but also reported externally.

"I was still working for swim Ireland but they had agreed to my nomination to go forward so I was allowed give a substantial proportion of my week to it. That's something that's been missed here. Out of the six new directors on the FAI board, my understanding is all have full-time positions outside of it and are trying to manage a very complex situation here.

"What's also being missed is that six of the seven on the board are new. These are people coming in unassociated with what happened who are trying to fix it. They're volunteers, they're not getting anything for it, they're doing it because they love football and want to give back.

"I do feel they're not being supported enough in what they're doing and I have a concern around the message that sends out."  

As part of the Sport Ireland Governance Review Group published during the summer, one of the main recommendations was to install an independent chairman and another three independent directors. However, five months on, none of the four positions have been filled.

It is believed that candidates had been identified but were waiting for the Sport Ireland KOSI audit of the FAI to be published before taking their positions. With that report instead sent by Sport Ireland to the Gardai to investigate possible criminality, that process seems to have stalled. 

However, Keane believes that impasse could be broken by allowing some of those candidates to get involved as part of this "crisis management committee" and revealed that she would be prepared to consider personal involvement.

"It seems to me that the independent directors are seen as the holy grail. These are individuals who aren't there at the moment. We had this experience as well," she added. 

"When we called our AGM and were looking to go for election, we said we need a new president so we'll look for somebody the public trust or who has a profile, perhaps somebody outside of sport. But a lot of people who aren't ingrained in it won't get involved when it's seen as a toxic brand or a dirty place to be. 

"And it appears that the FAI could be facing really serious consequences in terms of examinership or liquidation so from that perspective is it really realistic to expect independent directors to come on board when they're not even sure if the organisation will continue in the next couple of weeks. And if they've full time jobs, will they have the time needed?

"From my perspective, I'm already involved in two organisations. Having said that, I think I have some skills to offer that would be of value to the organisation.  

"I do think the matter is very serious. I understand the position of ministers and others in terms of trust but if you had a crisis management committee, you're not asking people to go on the board. Maybe some of the independent director candidates might be willing to get involved in that regard.   

"You could get a group of people who could liaise with UEFA, liaise with the government and speak to the media and let the day to day stuff to proceed as best as possible. We're still in a stand-off and as someone who cares about Irish football and Irish sport, we need to find a way out of the stand-off." 

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