Tuesday 17 September 2019

Conway keen to avoid further conflict with Ross

Donal Conway has been re-elected as FAI president. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Donal Conway has been re-elected as FAI president. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

A meeting between Minister for Sport Shane Ross and officials from UEFA and FIFA this weekend failed to resolve the ongoing spat over the make-up of the new FAI board, Donal Conway said yesterday.

Conway was speaking after his re-election as FAI president, a move that was vehemently opposed by Minister Ross, at yesterday's annual general meeting of the Association in Trim. Conway received 134 votes out of a possible 140, with five delegates voting against and one abstaining.

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State funding to the FAI has been suspended in the aftermath of a turbulent period for the Association, but a call from Ross for Conway to quit the board raised the attention of UEFA and FIFA, who have strict rules on government interference in the sport.

"Minister Ross met with two members of UEFA - Yann (Hafner) and Thierry (Favre) - and Sara (Solemale) from FIFA, and the only [FAI] board member there was Niamh O'Donoghue," said Conway.

"They had a constructive discussion. Some number of weeks ago we brought FIFA and UEFA across to meet with Sport Ireland, and they were laying out lines, and if you cross those there is the danger of third-party interference.

"I wasn't there but I got a report, and UEFA and FIFA reinforced their situation that choices about who leads the executive team or the officer board would be matters for the member association. Minister Ross stuck to the position he has adopted over the last number of weeks.

"At any juncture talking about Minister Ross, I've always held out an olive branch. I'm not going to press that into a potential conflict or create a sense of impending threat. The fact that the meeting took place and that conversations took place is good."

Conway added: "Both sides understand their respective positions better. That's always good. I'm sure Minister Ross and Donal Conway want to get to the same place: a governing body for sport with governance of the highest standard. There may still be some disagreement on how best to effect that but the FAI are willing to talk to Mr Ross at any stage about how best to move forward."

The outgoing vice president, Noel Fitzroy, dropped out of the contest after former board member John Earley was put forward by the schools' bodies to represent them on the new board.

Fitzroy said: "It is with deep regret that I find myself in a situation where I am faced with no alternative but to withdraw my nomination in order to uphold our responsibilities to the governance review proposals and avoid further crisis.

"At this point in time, two members of the old board have been selected or elected so I find myself in an impossible situation. While this decision is devastating to me personally, I make it in the best interests of the Association."

Former newspaper executive Paul Cooke defeated Gerry McAnaney by 80 votes to 57 to secure the position of vice president. In all, eight of the interim board of 12 was confirmed yesterday.

Joining Conway, Cooke and Earley from the various football constituencies established under the new proposals are Martin Heraghty (Sligo Rovers) and Dick Shakespeare (UCD) from the League of Ireland, John Finnegan and Dave Moran from amateur football, and Joe O'Brien from the Colleges FAI.

The FAI will wait until four new independent directors are appointed to the board before they begin the process of appointing a CEO.

Conway, meanwhile, again said that he would step down if it was in the best interests of the Association.

"I don't want to in any way inhibit progress," he said. "I'm not predicting where something will fall or not fall but you know I think ultimately we'll all do the right thing for the Association, which is what the last two weeks has been about."

Asked specifically if he was confident that he wouldn't be implicated by reports into FAI affairs, Conway replied "I am."

Conway also dismissed any suggestion that Ireland's co-hosting of Euro 2020 could be jeopardised by the suspension of state funds. A revamp of the Aviva is required to bring it up to the right specifications.

"The state is already contracted and has made commitments to the hosting of the games," said Conway. "2020 and the four games are long tied down. The money is committed."

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