Sport Soccer

Thursday 21 November 2019

Mystery of FAI's 'Football For All' budget: Council representative wants answers

Council representative for programme which supports disabled footballers wants answers after government letter raises questions about level of spending

Colm Young has asked the FAI to detail all expenditure on the Football For All Programme (FFA) over the past four years (stock photo)
Colm Young has asked the FAI to detail all expenditure on the Football For All Programme (FFA) over the past four years (stock photo)
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The FAI Council representative for 'Football For All' is looking for answers after being told by the government that the annual budget assigned to the programme for disabled players was €212,490 - when he was working off the impression that no more than €80,000 was available for distribution to affiliates.

Colm Young has asked the FAI to detail all expenditure on the Football For All Programme (FFA) over the past four years after being "gobsmacked" by March correspondence from MEP Frances Fitzgerald - who was then a TD - which detailed discussions between Sport Ireland and the FAI on the spending in this area.

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He is still waiting for a detailed response and is deeply concerned about the impact that the FAI's troubled finances could have on the services they provide. The full-time staff member assigned to FFA has recently left the FAI and has not been replaced.

Young had initially gone to Fitzgerald as part of a submission to Health Minister Simon Harris in a bid to secure an additional €60,000 in funding for the nationwide expansion of a programme that targets the support of individuals with mental health problems.

In the course of discussions, Young had spoken of how funding for the FFA totals in the region of €70,000 to €80,000 per annum and is spread among the groups that come under that umbrella.

They include the Amputee Football Association, Powerchair Football, and versions of the game that cater for young blind and deaf footballers.

Young says ex-FAI CEO John Delaney gave him a verbal indication every year on the amount that was available and it ranged between €70,000 to €80,000.

However, in the aftermath of the turmoil that engulfed the FAI in the wake of the emergence of Delaney's bridging loan to his employer and the dramatic fallout, Young received a letter from Fitzgerald as he followed up on the request for additional funding for the KickStart2Recovery mental health scheme.

In the letter - seen by the Irish Independent - Fitzgerald attached a reply from Minister Harris on the matter.

He said: "Sport Ireland have advised that in Q1 2019, the FAI has indicated they will invest €14.4m in their grassroots and technical development programmes for 2019, of which €212,490 is directly attributable to the Football for All programme."

It stunned Young. "I have to say I was gobsmacked, I was taken aback," he told the Irish Independent. "I was told verbally by the CEO (Delaney) what my budget was. That (€212,490) is a significant amount of funding for Football For All.

"Naively, I sent that correspondence to (president) Donal Conway and to Rea Walshe (then acting CEO) and asked, 'Can you shed any light on this?'

"I was hoping against hope that somebody was going to come back to me. As things (with the FAI) escalated, I was getting phone calls from affiliates saying, 'We've no money here'."

He is aware that part of the difference could be explained by the payment of wages to the programme co-ordinator who has since left the FAI.

But he wants clarity from the FAI on the rest of that budgetary figure. He raised his grievances at last month's Council meeting.

Young is concerned about the future of the programme as a number of affiliates are owed money and some only received their first payment of the year in the aftermath of that summit in Abbotstown.

He has also called on Minister Shane Ross to consider the impact that the State funding freeze is having on sectors of the sport that are very much reliant on government support as they are unlikely to attract significant commercial sponsorship.

Young says he is speaking out now as he gave the FAI time to get their house in order during a turbulent year, yet now has to take into consideration the fears of vulnerable sections of the sport that are now preparing their 2020 funding submissions despite not having received 2019 monies.

It's understood that Amputee Football are waiting on €5,000 (from their annual budget of €10,000), while Powerchair Football are short circa €2,500.

"In two months' time, these affiliates are going to be submitting again for their funding and there is no money. That's what everyone is being told," he said.

"Are these affiliates working on a shoestring? Absolutely. They are lost without FAI funding. So reality has kicked in and it has kicked in bloody quick. There's no outside sponsors coming in and giving them thousands.

"For Powerchair Ireland, for example, it's affecting the hiring of halls so they can train. Somebody has to pay for the hall hire. There is no money in the kitty to pay for the facilities they are using

"The Deaf Futsal Women's team are in Switzerland for the World Cup and they would be in trouble only for the intervention of the PFAI (players' union) as monies raised at their awards on Saturday (tonight) is going towards their cause.

"The withdrawal of funding from Sport Ireland to the FAI is having an instant impact on the Football For All programme.

Resigned

"This is a message to Minister Shane Ross as well. These affiliates are vulnerable, they will always play second fiddle to mainstream football and I've resigned myself to that. You're talking a couple of hundred participants, but it's their chosen sport. There is an obligation.

"Certain assurances were given at Council meetings, that we would have our house in order by September. We would have these reports. But none of these milestones have been hit. My issue hasn't been dealt with."

Young sought a meeting with interim FAI general manager Noel Mooney to seek information about the budget figure and was surprised when FAI president Conway also attended.

"I was looking to see if Noel could shed any light on the €212,490 and also speak about an event we are trying to host next July for the Amputee European Academy that will cost €80,000," he said. "Donal was a good advocate for Football For All. He sat in on the meeting and, in hindsight, I believe he was there to deflect.

"In the Council, I raised the request for the expenditure on Football For All over the last four years and I still don't have it."

Young adds that recent revelations about a six-figure settlement deal with Delaney has angered sections of the game that are urgently in need of cash. "Seemingly it will be in the accounts," he said, "Where are they getting that money from? These are questions that I'm asking. The FAI have a duty of care to their affiliates."

The FAI failed to comment on questions from the Irish Independent on the existing Football For All budget, Young's queries and the current funding situation.

Irish Independent

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