Thursday 24 October 2019

Concern Uefa 'could take over running of the FAI'

Fifa delegation will visit Dublin this week as Government fears European body will step in

Stepped aside: Former FAI chief executive John Delaney. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Stepped aside: Former FAI chief executive John Delaney. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Concern is growing in Government that Uefa will need to take an active role in the running of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Officials are worried about the FAI’s ability to govern itself and appoint a new chief executive following John Delaney’s departure from the role amid controversy about the association’s finances.

They fear the “drip feed of information” from the association and the number of investigations taking place into its affairs make the association unmanageable.

It comes as Fifa officials are due to visit the FAI’s Abbotstown headquarters on Wednesday.

FAI president Donal Conway, interim chief executive Rea Walshe and board member Eamon Naughton met with Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin and director of national associations Zoran Lakovic in Switzerland last Monday. The following day Uefa delegates met with the FAI and Sport Ireland officials in Abbotstown. This has fed concern within the Department of Sport and Sport Ireland that Uefa will take “a bigger involvement in the running of the FAI”.

Officials are also anxious about the impact the association’s corporate governance issues will have on Ireland’s joint bid with England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to host the 2030 World Cup.

Sport Ireland and the FAI have established a governance review group to reform the association.

Sources close to the parties involved said the volume of issues surrounding finances and corporate affairs have led to concerns Uefa or Fifa will take measures to directly intervene in the day-to-day running of Irish football.

A source told the Sunday Independent it will also be difficult for the association to appoint a new chief executive, saying the organisation needs dramatic changes.

“With the drip feed of information and all of the investigations, there is concern growing in departmental and ministerial circles that Uefa might take over the running of the FAI for a while,” the source said.

Last Friday, Sport Ireland appointed Northern Irish accounting firm KOSI Corporation to carry out an extensive independent audit of the association. Separate inquiries by consultancy firms Mazars and Grant Thornton are also being carried out. Meanwhile, an FAI sub-committee is carrying out an inquiry into issues relating to the €100,000 loan Mr Delaney gave the association two years ago to deal with a cash-flow problem.

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the Revenue are also examining the FAI’s affairs.

Mr Delaney left his role as chief executive in March after details of the loan became public. He was appointed to the role of executive vice-president but has since stepped aside pending the outcome of the inquiries.

The association had planned to unveil a new chief executive at its July AGM but the recruitment process has been delayed by the governance reviews.

A source told the Sunday Independent that Uefa taking a more active role might benefit the association as it goes through a period of reform.

Fifa has previously appointed committees, made up of local delegates and Uefa officials, to run the daily affairs of national associations in Europe.

“There is going to be no chief executive in that organisation for another 12 or 18 months,” the source said.

“Those who are under questioning about what did or didn’t happen in the past don’t have time to run the organisation.

“Uefa might have to take a bigger involvement in the running of the FAI.”

Last night FAI president Donal Conway welcomed news of the Fifa delegation’s visit. “Uefa and the FAI are exploring all areas in which Uefa can assist the FAI and will continue to work in partnership for the betterment of Irish football,” he said.

Read more: FAI to be quizzed about governance and finance issues by FIFA delegation next week

Read more: Delaney used Henry handball payment to argue for €2m exit deal

Read more: 'FAI make us a laughing stock' - voters bombard ministers

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