Saturday 7 December 2019

Aidan Fitzmaurice: 'Shane Ross has won this battle with the FAI but there are more to come'

Who 'in their right mind' would take the reins at the FAI after Foley decides to withdraw from role at 11th hour?

Morale amongst staff at Abbotstown is said to be at ‘an all-time low’. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Morale amongst staff at Abbotstown is said to be at ‘an all-time low’. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

It's doubtful that he ever donned a pair of football boots, even in his youth, but Minister for Sport Shane Ross has shown, once again, that he's willing to put in a late tackle if he sees the need.

And just when the FAI board thought things couldn't get any worse in the most testing period of their 99-year history, the association find themselves literally rudderless, following the (very) late decision by John Foley not to take up the post of interim chief executive officer; the Waterford native quitting the job as Noel Mooney's temporary successor before he had even started.

"There is no point in asking me who is running the FAI today because I haven't a f****** clue, and I'm only a board member," was the gallows humour from one FAI director, speaking before last night's board meeting.

Turmoil on top of turmoil, on the first working day of a month which, due to the pain which will come from those horrific annual accounts in 25 days' time, will be one of the toughest months ever for the FAI.

Yesterday morning, on a day when he was due to start work as FAI interim CEO, former Athletics Ireland chief Foley issued a statement saying he'd decided not to take up the post.

Support

"It was not clear that the support for my appointment across key stakeholders was at the level required for me to succeed on delivering on the huge challenges to be faced by the Association in the coming months. Therefore I have decided no to take up the role of Interim CEO," Foley said.

Neither Foley's statement, or subsequent media releases by the FAI and Ross's department, explained the abrupt nature of his decision to step back.

"To satisfy the concerns of all stakeholders, the new CEO should be completely independent of any previous or present involvement with the FAI," said a statement last night from Ross and his junior minister Brendan Griffin, restating Ross's long-held belief that individuals with links to John Delaney can have no role in a new FAI.

A number of sources claimed that a last-gasp move by Ross over the weekend, a show of strength in his eyes, made it clear that Foley's past association with the FAI - particularly with Delaney - made it impossible for him to take the role. Foley was one of two directors selected by Delaney to go on the National League Executive in 2007.

With Foley backing away from the post, Ross may feel this is another win for him, but the anger towards the minster in FAI circles has grown.

"We have missed a really good opportunity here to get someone in and get them working," said a board member.

"Now you have to ask, who in their right mind is going to take this job, to take on six months of hell? We were in crisis already but we're even deeper in it now."

The FAI board were meeting last night, with the main topic being the ongoing work on the annual accounts which were due to be presented at July's AGM. They were held back from publication and will now be presented to council members on December 28.

Instead, they are in the process of finding yet another CEO. After Delaney's March exit, Rea Walshe served for a stint, then Mooney, followed (almost) by Foley and now someone else must be put forward.

The FAI may well have lost the services of an able sports administrator as Foley's work with Athletics Ireland was well regarded. But it was those links with the old regime that did for him.

And there were question marks over Foley's appointment due to the lack of transparency. At least with Noel Mooney's appointment, there had been clarity - an official FAI statement in May.

The first time Foley was mentioned by name, in any formal way by the FAI, was a press release issued yesterday, minutes after his own statement was given to RTÉ. Foley's ascension to the role was known in football circles and the appointment was widely reported in the media... but it was never confirmed by the FAI.

Those who question whether the current board of the FAI really have changed their ways will have looked at the Foley appointment curiously, effectively sliding towards the office with no clarity on his job specification or length of contract.

In the crossfire between the FAI board and the minister are FAI employees who grimly await news from a meeting at Abbotstown this morning of their 12-person staff committee.

A SIPTU statement last night claiming "morale among staff in the FAI is at an all-time low" as the union asked for Ross to meet employees so he can hear the impact which the lack of government funding has had on them.

But any expectation that the season of goodwill could lead to improved relations between government and FAI is misplaced. Shane Ross has won this round but there are more blows to come.

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