Monday 23 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'History repeats itself as suspension of funding hurts Delaney's key constituency'


John Delaney. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
John Delaney. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Back in 2004, when the path was clearing for John Delaney to become CEO of the FAI, the immediate priority was restoring relations with the government of the day.

Ahead of his appointment as interim boss, Mr Delaney was part of an FAI delegation brought in for what was described as a "dressing down" from the then minister for sport, John O'Donoghue.

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Fran Rooney had just left the association, and the government was making noises about the FAI's failure to implement the Genesis Report commissioned in the aftermath of Saipan. One TD had even called for a Public Accounts Committee to conduct an audit into the use of public funds.

Reports at the time suggested politicians welcomed the idea of Mr Delaney coming in as Mr Rooney's replacement because he was someone they could work with.

It was about building bridges. Suspending funding to the FAI was always the nuclear option, the step no government or statutory body ever wants to take because of the harm it can do to volunteers and projects on the ground.

And the FAI made it through that period with Mr Delaney at the helm, even if it didn't quite adopt all of the Genesis recommendations - a point that has been made on a number of occasions during a period of uncertainty that is a throwback to the start of the Waterford man's CEO journey.

With the governance of the FAI sharply under the spotlight, Sport Ireland did push that nuclear button yesterday.

In doing so, it brought this crisis enveloping Irish football to a whole new level. It is a story that has piqued interest outside of Ireland, because of the FAI executive vice-president's standing within Uefa and the talks about a 2030 World Cup bid with England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is no positive spin on the publicity this generates, even though the current FAI hierarchy did try to tell staff last night it was "business as usual".

This is a move that sends a statement and it goes beyond the suspension of the 50pc of funding the FAI has yet to draw down this year, a figure worth somewhere in the region of €1.45m.

It might be a small amount of money in the context of the association's overall turnover of around €50m but its margins are limited as it continues to pay back Aviva Stadium debt, a constant burden over the past decade.

Funding from Sport Ireland helps to deliver worthy projects around the country. Indeed, these are some of the initiatives that have presented the FAI in a very favourable light.

Mr Delaney has received support from small clubs around the country that have cited his influence in delivering grants for them.

There is no doubt he has devoted time to this area but, in quite a number of these instances, the FAI is essentially deciding how to distribute State funding that comes its way. It might cut the ribbon, but it doesn't necessarily source the cheque.

Now, the well is essentially drying up because of how the FAI hierarchy has managed a situation that shone a light on their practices. Normal service will be restored only when the FAI applies a semblance of order.

This is history repeating.

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