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Clumsy denial adds to FAI credibility issue

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FAI Chief Executive John Delaney

FAI Chief Executive John Delaney

SPORTSFILE

FAI Chief Executive John Delaney

The story of John Delaney’s singsong in the Bath Pub is no longer a simple discussion about the merits of the ballad, Joe McDonnell. It is about far more than that.

On another remarkable day in the chequered history of Irish football, the rights and wrongs of that debate were aired on a variety of radio stations.

When Brian Warfield of the Wolfe Tones wound up on Liveline immersed in a shouting match, we were in surreal territory.

Here’s a key question, though. If Delaney’s decision to delve into his repertoire and pull out this particular ditty was no big deal, why did the FAI not adopt that strategy when this video first emerged on social media?

Irish sports website balls.ie put it out online on Friday night.

On Saturday morning, they were contacted and, in their words, ‘advised we take the post down as we were leaving ourselves open to legal proceedings'. They were told that it was not Delaney in the video.

Then, when The Guardian attempted to go down that route on Monday, they received contact from an English law firm advising them against publishing the story.

According to the newspaper, a senior partner told the Guardian: “My client’s position is simply that it is not him singing in the video. If you take the decision to publish legal proceedings will follow as it will undoubtedly cause various issues for my client.”

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Republic of Ireland fans unfurl a banner in protest against ticket allocations for the Scotland game.

Republic of Ireland fans unfurl a banner in protest against ticket allocations for the Scotland game.

SPORTSFILE

Republic of Ireland fans unfurl a banner in protest against ticket allocations for the Scotland game.

The Daily Telegraph have reported a similar experience.

If there was nothing to be ashamed of, then why would this message be communicated? This is a pertinent query. What are the 'various issues'?

FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce, from Northern Ireland, certainly had a problem with Delaney's conduct.

“I’m totally shocked and saddened that someone I have known for many years should get involved in such stupidity,” said Boyce, a lifelong supporter of Cliftonville FC, who has always been conscious of the dangers of sport and politics overlapping.

“As someone who has always condemned bigotry and sectarianism over many years and witnessed much improvement in the situation in Ireland, both north and south, this type of behaviour from the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland has to be condemned.”

The FAI issued their response to the manner in which this tale had developed via a statement from Delaney on their website last night.

He attempted to address the subject of how the association had responded to the furore.

"I now understand that while I was travelling [on Monday] and un-contactable there was some confusion through a third party around the background of a video which appeared and where it happened which led to misunderstanding,” said the statement, before returning to a common theme from an exhaustive round of morning radio appearances.

“As anyone who knows me will attest, I abhor violence and have worked tirelessly through my role at the Football Association of Ireland to strengthen links between communities on this island, north and south.”

Again, we are left with more answers than questions. The main observation is this: If the FAI were in a position to contact balls.ie about the video on Saturday, there should surely have been no confusion about the background and location on Monday. 

This is an embarrassing episode, the continuation of a problematic month for the Abbotstown hierarchy.

Delaney acknowledged that a staff member in the FAI had ‘taken their eye off the ball’ with regard to the handling of the away allocation for the Euro 2016 qualifier in Scotland.

Hardcore fans who never miss an away fixture were outraged that they were left ticketless for the game and rejected the FAI’s response that the Scots were to blame for restricting the Irish numbers. Delaney described the actions of his Scottish counterparts as ‘unprofessional'.

But that didn’t stop Irish supporters from attempting to protest at last Tuesday’s Aviva Stadium friendly with the United States, the fixture which preceded the trip to the Bath Pub.

They found it difficult to follow through with their protest and were prevented from putting up banners. In the singing section in the South Stand, an area which is always populated by vocal fans, there was an unusually large security presence and they were accused of heavy handed tactics. It left a bad taste.

Presumably, Delaney was uncomfortable with that turn of events. “I’ve never had a problem with anyone giving an opinion on whether Irish football is run well or not,” he said yesterday. League of Ireland clubs who have been fined for criticising the running of the league will have noted that observation.

That’s why this latest flashpoint is just one piece of a larger jigsaw. The sport has problems and cannot afford to get bogged down in a drama that has attracted attention from far and wide.

Administrators in the other major codes, GAA and rugby, have avoided this level of controversy. Like Mario Balotelli, the FAI might feel they are in ‘Why Always Me?’ territory.

But that line of thought requires introspection. Denying a story that was subsequently proved to be true is not a good strategy. Ironically, it has only succeeded in turning it into another familiar saga.

Earlier this year, Delaney spoke in strong terms about the association he inherited in 2004 when he became chief executive.

“There was a credibility issue,” he said. The events of the last 48 hours would suggest that issue is still there. And there’s no sign of it going away.

Online Editors