Friday 19 July 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'FAI's slow pace of change contrasts with momentum now behind Quinn plan'


Niall Quinn: Academy idea has generated positive energy. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Niall Quinn: Academy idea has generated positive energy. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It was always going to be a long goodbye. After more than a decade of little or no change, talk of reform of the FAI board was never going to be followed by a revolution.

Next Monday's EGM of the association will deal with the issue of term limits arising from Minister for Sport Shane Ross' call for our sporting bodies to overhaul their rules of office. He wants them to limit the length of time that officers can serve. For the FAI, this presented a difficulty given that the majority of their 11-person board have been in situ for at least 13 years.

Ross wants key officials to serve a maximum of three terms - each lasting three years.

John Fallon reported on these pages yesterday that the FAI want to give their officers four more years before applying new conditions.

It is believed, however, that long-serving honorary secretary Michael Cody and honorary treasurer Eddie Murray may not be staying on.

The meeting will vote on a tweak to the rules which ensures that board members - aside from the CEO who is hired on a contract basis - can stay in situ for a maximum of eight years consisting of two four-year terms. But one more term for the rest of the existing officials means this is progress at snail's pace. Some will be close to 20 years on the board before that ends.

The extension will take in Euro 2020 - a prime gig if Ireland make it - and also the FAI's centenary in 2021. Having been part of most of the association's history, they may as well stick around for that landmark.

What should also happen during this window is the clearing of the remaining Aviva Stadium bank borrowings, a target that John Delaney was keen to meet.

That will be presented as a triumph, and it's fair to say there was some scepticism about claims it would be wiped by 2020. UEFA's centralised TV deals came along at a very helpful time for the association.

Unfortunately, the tightening of resources to deal with the burden of borrowing impacted on all areas of the game over the past decade with cutbacks affecting areas such as funding for development officers and League of Ireland prize-money.

The absolutely ludicrous pricing of the ten-year premium tickets, a flop that is wrongly attributed to the recession when they were never going to be sold at prices ranging from €1,200 to €3,200 per year, will go down as this board's main legacy.

That and the inflation of the salary for our management team to top five in Europe territory.

Amazingly, they survived unscathed through any post-mortem of the ticket mistakes with any grumbles delivered with a knowing nod, far away from any microphones or meetings. The absence of elections for positions suggested there was no willingness from within the football family to join the top table. Or encouragement to do so.

One of the sport's great strengths, we are told, is the high participation levels. In that context, there should be lots of voices seeking to play a part in the decision-making process. Instead, the association is saddled with the reputation of being an old boys' club.

Interestingly enough, there's another event taking place next Monday. Niall Quinn will speak at a public meeting arranged by Labour senator Aodhán ó Ríordáin.

The subject is a call for the political system to take football seriously and 'formulate a policy document for the future of the game at all levels.'

Quinn's plan to revamp the League of Ireland through the creation of academies around the country - with the help of state funding - attracted both curiosity and derision. There was a vagueness about some of the detail that left him open to that. But there are strong rumblings that Quinn has been working seriously in the background to put flesh on the bones. And he's made progress.

Prospective investors are not imagined; they do exist. There is one household name company involved in this process. Government officials at a high level have been consulted and are interested.

That's not to suggest that massive developments are around the corner. It's the start of a process which is taking time, but it has uncovered individuals with an interest in getting involved in the game.

Expect more of the details to be teased out in the coming weeks and months. There are legs in the story. The positive energy is a contrast from the picture presented by the FAI's old boys seeking to hang on for one last hurrah.

Change might well be coming, whether they like it or not.

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: Kerry back to their best, Connolly’s return and Cork’s baffling inconsistency

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport