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Sinead Kissane: An open letter to John Delaney - Did you cringe in embarrassment when you heard those words?

An open letter to FAI CEO asks how treatment of women's team tallies with UEFA commitment to 'social fair play'

'Do you remember what you said after Stephanie Roche (pictured) became the first woman to make the final shortlist of the FIFA Puskas Award? You said she was “a fantastic ambassador for Irish football and for our country”.' Photo: Sportsfile
'Do you remember what you said after Stephanie Roche (pictured) became the first woman to make the final shortlist of the FIFA Puskas Award? You said she was “a fantastic ambassador for Irish football and for our country”.' Photo: Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Dear John, What a landmark week this has been for Irish football; look who stood up to the big boys, got plenty of international media coverage and made progress after hard negotiations. Without doubt, John, your appointment to Uefa's Executive Committee was ground-breaking.

Tell me, John, as you sat in the aptly-named Fair Centre in Helsinki for UEFA's Congress on Wednesday - the day after our national women's team went public with their grievances with the FAI - what were you thinking when UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin made his speech which included lines about UEFA and "social fair play"?

"We cannot stand up for diversity, gender equality and social inclusion by means of TV spots and good intentions if we ourselves tolerate words and behaviour from another age," Ceferin stated.

Did you cringe with embarrassment, John, when you heard those words? Did you drop your head in shame at how a dispute over ridiculously ordinary requirements with our national women's team drag on for a few years? Or did you shake your head at the inconvenience of another 'problem child' raring its head at home?

I can appreciate how terrible the Wi-Fi must have been in your hotel in Helsinki so you may not be up to speed with all the reaction.

But remind me, John, how do you think it is good practice that an email was sent by the FAI to players last weekend which warned them that their proposed actions could "damage" their club careers and international reputations and reminded players of their "responsibilities to the many young people who look up to you as role models"?

Are warnings like this de rigueur in the FAI, John?

What spectrum of misjudgement exists in the FAI that the notion of women standing up for themselves will harm their image as "role-models"?

Do you remember what you said after Stephanie Roche became the first woman to make the final shortlist of the FIFA Puskas Award? You said she was "a fantastic ambassador for Irish football and for our country".

Well it might surprise you to know that Roche and her team-mates went up even more in many people's estimation with the way they spoke out at the treatment they have received.

And what kind of societal disconnect is going on in the organisation that their request for improved conditions and the threat of strike should somehow be computed within the FAI as "damaging"?

It seems the FAI also misjudged the public support for our national women's team. It's a growing sport but that doesn't mean the public won't react to hearing that our national women's team isn't being treated the way it should be.

You don't have to go to games to be annoyed by what's right and what's not, as SIPTU's Ethel Buckley implied in a statement: "The events of the past two days amount to a short, sharp and successful campaign to advance the rights of women in sport.

"They are also a reminder that in any area of modern Irish society women should never accept being treated as second class citizens."

The other issue here, John, is representation.

The association you are chief executive of did not seem to want to recognise the fact that our national women's team had mandated the Professional Footballers' Association of Ireland (PFAI) to represent them in their dealings with the FAI.

Yet when our national men's team were in negotiations about a bonus package for Euro 2016, the FAI released a statement in January 2016 which showed that the men's team were allowed use a representative in their talks with the FAI.

"We are pleased to have finalised this agreement quickly and cordially with the FAI through our representative, Ciaran Medlar," Robbie Keane said. Double standards, anyone?

So what happens next, John? This isn't just about cheques or coat-tails but also culture. In January, you told a Dáil committee that you "do not see the requirements for gender quotas. If you are developing the game correctly with the affiliates and they are happy with how we are developing participation and giving representation, rather than doing tokenism, you are better off to do real stuff and make it happen".

"Make it happen" came off this week as being forced into submission through public humiliation which shows there is a lot not working. In January you said the FAI has two women on its national council. But that's two out of 60. Last year Noel King said there are "over 12,000 registered women playing football in Ireland with over 570 teams competing in leagues throughout the country".

Next time you meet Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, ask him about the speech Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of UN Women, gave last month at a FIFA Conference in Zurich.

Here's a taster: "A central aspect of our strategy is changing the rules of the patriarchal, discriminatory game - in terms of laws, policies, measures and governance structures and amplifying women's voices and increasing women's roles as leaders and advocates for change," Puri said.

"Now with FIFA's recent appointments of three women to senior management, there is new impetus to this engendering and feminisation of football . . . Yet much more is to be done . . . "

When disputes like this week's one get resolved, there can be a storyline of closure and a desire to move on. But that would be a disservice to the balls it took these women to stand up to the FAI.

As well as building on the resolutions found this week, this should be the FAI's Big Bang moment where a cultural change could also start from the top down with more representation of women on the FAI's national council - skilled women who could bring a change of perspective, because this week proved it's badly needed.

Try on that thought for size, Mr Delaney.

Yours etc

Irish Independent

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