Tuesday 23 July 2019

John Brennan: 'FAI paupers without a prince count cost of Aviva'

FAI president Donal Conway. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
FAI president Donal Conway. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

John Brennan

It was like Hamlet without the prince on Friday at the FAI's headquarters as the damning report into governance at the embattled association was published.

Before Aidan Horan, chairman of the expert review group, and FAI president Donal Conway even spoke, journalists had been asked not to ask a question about a certain FAI employee currently on gardening leave. John Delaney is not mentioned in the report either.

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Horan said: "This report is about looking forward, even if we did have to look backwards on occasion to find out some things." When the report did look backwards, Horan identified one problem that acts like a halter on the Association - its decision to get involved in the building and ownership of the Aviva Stadium.

The report clearly states "an in-depth review should be undertaken in relation to the operation of any and all joint ventures or significant partnerships to which the Association is a participant".

Then there's more. The next recommendation is that a designated board member should be delegated to join the board of any such joint venture, and that this person must have the required business skills and experience to oversee the FAI's interests.

But the last recommendation in this area catches the eye.

"As normal practice, all minutes of the regular board meetings of any joint venture entities should be presented and made available to the FAI board or a designated board committee.

"If delegated to a committee, that committee's regular report to the board should include a commentary and report of performance of the joint venture entity."

All of which, of course, begs the question - why was it not being done already?

Has the FAI board known over the ten years just what the FAI was involved in as it took joint ownership of a stadium that cost over €400m to build? The failure to sell the overpriced Vantage Club tickets for the premium level of the Aviva back in 2011 still hangs like a millstone around its neck.

Clubs around the country are screaming for grants to improve pitches or clubhouses, the youths' and women's games need money to grow, League of Ireland clubs want to improve the facilities at their grounds. But the repayments on the Aviva Stadium debt is a drain on resources.

Contrast that to the GAA, which in 2017 gave their clubs and counties €9m, with €8m following last year in development grants. And that's only from the central resources. Each of the GAA's four provincial councils has also given money to clubs and counties.

No wonder GAA pitches and clubhouses are to be seen everywhere across the land while soccer volunteers struggle to put such facilities in place.

Asked if the FAI should not sell its interest in the Aviva, given that it reverts to being solely owned by the IRFU in the mid-2040s anyway, Conway demurred: "No, it would then cost us money, a lot of money, to rent a ground for international football every time Ireland have a match."

Instead, the FAI is going to seek a third debt renegotiation to ease the burden a little. But with Conway admitting that it may now be 2030, not 2020, before the Aviva debt is cleared, it seems that Irish football people have another decade ahead of them of being the poor relation of Irish sport.

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