Thursday 23 January 2020

State considers buying FAI's stake in the Aviva Stadium

The Government is considering buying out the FAI's stake in the Aviva Stadium
The Government is considering buying out the FAI's stake in the Aviva Stadium
Tight-lipped: Shane Ross refused to be drawn on his opinion of taking the FAI’s stake in the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The Government taking over the FAI's stake in the Aviva Stadium has emerged as the most likely short-term solution to the troubled association's cash crisis.

Officials from the Department of Sport will today meet the IRFU to discuss what the FAI's grave financial position means for the status of the venue jointly owned by the two associations. The FAI owes €29m on the Aviva as part of overall liabilities which exceed €60m.

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The Irish Independent understands Government officials are open to taking over the FAI stake in the stadium.

Sports Minister Shane Ross revealed to an Oireachtas committee that the FAI board sought €18m in State support in a meeting on Monday.

The 'bailout' request was dismissed by Mr Ross who said it wasn’t a credible plan as the FAI was deemed unfit for receipt of public funds by the Sport Ireland-commissioned audit.

Last night the FAI angrily hit out at Mr Ross for breaching confidence by detailing aspects of their discussions.

Asked at the Oireachtas Committee on Sports yesterday how much the association had looked for on Monday, Mr Ross replied that the figure was "€18m as a possibility or a guarantee of that" and that "it was shocking".

The minister later stated that the document presented had been marked confidential but that "it wasn't a credible document, it was not something we could consider seriously".

The FAI responded with a statement last night in which it claimed the minister's comments will make securing the future of the association and the safeguarding of jobs "all the more difficult".

FAI executive lead Paul Cooke said: "A number of points were raised today, some of which we addressed in confidence at Monday night's meeting in Leinster House when we presented Government with a credible business plan produced in partnership with Grant Thornton.

"We outlined the current serious financial situation at the association and how Government involvement could help secure a refinancing package."

Mr Ross revealed at the committee that things are so grave at Abbotstown that, in the words of the minister, the FAI has "done some work on the consequences of examinership".

He said he was "dismayed" that the FAI had declined an invitation to appear at the committee.

He repeated his message from Monday that he is seeking a meeting with Uefa, which is pencilled in for January 14, about the association's dire financial position.

One idea drawn up by a section of FAI staff has proposed splitting the football body into two with an elite function and then a State-funded grassroots department.

However that option is viewed as unworkable.

Leading officials at Uefa believe the FAI should be looking at selling its share of the Aviva Stadium to alleviate concerns.

The easiest solution would be if the IRFU, which owns 57.5pc of the stadium, paid to take over the FAI's share, which is 42.5pc.

But the IRFU is understood to see no value in that strategy.

Ken Spratt, the assistant secretary of the Department for Transport, Tourism and Sport, outlined that the FAI can sell its stake pending the agreement of the minister.

Mr Ross refused to be drawn on his opinion, but it is believed the department would not be opposed to this course of action being taken.

Mr Spratt asserted that, while the stadium does raise revenues from concerts and conferences, there is a licence for the two governing bodies to hold a certain number of fixtures there every year.

The Government contributed €191m to the construction of the renovated Lansdowne Road and sources involved in discussions around the FAI's difficulties say the opinion is forming that taking over all or a portion of the stadium debt is a plausible scenario.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said he was opposed to "dry cash" being given to the FAI, but he would support an Aviva-related option.

"What I want to establish is if the Government is looking at taking the stake in the stadium," he said.

"That's where I think it might end up.

"If it saves football then I could see the State potentially taking some angle on the stadium.

"But the preference is that the IRFU might do that."

But rugby authorities have other projects in mind for investment - and that is why the FAI's problems are set to be resolved by their dealings with the State.

"Our interest is in saving Irish football, and that's absolutely imperative," said Mr Ross, who said that he would take a more benign approach to the FAI when it formally appoints four independent directors and begins the process of appointing an independent chief executive.

He said it was 'unacceptable' that president Donal Conway and schoolboys' representative John Earley, two members of the old board, had stayed on until this month before announcing they would step away.

Irish Independent

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