Schoolboys told to sort out 'radius rule' row as civil war threatens the grassroots
THE FAI have ordered schoolboys football chiefs to sort out the wrangle over the 'radius rule', or face the prospect of direct intervention from the governing body next year.
A proposal to introduce a rule doubling the current 49km distance players can travel from their school to join a club was withdrawn from the FAI annual general meeting at the 11th hour.
The FAI rowed back after a meeting on Friday night with the officers of the Schoolboys FAI (SFAI), their affiliate which governs football for players up to the age of 16.
FAI chief executive John Delaney made it clear that he was unhappy with the current rule and the sanctions attached to it on Saturday when he declared: "We cannot have a repeat of the last season's situation when an entire Kilnamanagh U-15 squad were thrown out of football."
FAI board member and rules guru Paraic Treanor shared that view when explaining the rationale behind the late withdrawal of the new rule proposal, saying: "We have accepted the SFAI's request for the withdrawal on the basis of them addressing our concerns on the geographical and sanction aspects of their rule."
To decode that statement, the FAI want the current distance expanded, coupled with a fairer punishment for offenders, rather than penalising a whole squad of players.
It was agreed between the parties that the SFAI would call an emergency general meeting of their members, most likely to be on August 31 or September 7, at which the clubs will be presented with a revised version of the rule to vote upon.
With several leagues outside Dublin exasperated at losing their best talent to clubs in the capital, a major challenge faces the SFAI to push through any watering down of the current rule.
They know, however, that the mothership in Abbotstown will carefully monitor what unfolds from their EGM.
"Our executive committee will meet in two weeks to develop a compromise which we believe to be fair and reasonable," said SFAI chairman Mick O'Brien yesterday.
"While concerns about the present rule have been expressed by the FAI, we have received complaints from some of our own leagues on the same issue.
"We will take those into account before recommending a proposal for our EGM. Something has to change, or the FAI will act at their AGM next year."
Any tweak in the rule is unlikely to placate the Dublin and District Schoolboys League (DDSL), whose board of directors remain strident in their plans to break away from the SFAI.
Earlier this month, Delaney and his officers scuppered the planned move of the biggest league in the country from the SFAI to the Leinster Football Association, offering a mediator to help resolve their differences with the SFAI.
While the DDSL board may claim that they are only implementing the mandate given to them by their members at their AGM, straying into a space where the league becomes a non-affiliated entity presents huge risks.
For example, access to official referees is sure to be problematic – as would the validity of their insurance, which is needed to play on pitches under the control of local authorities.
It's also highly unlikely that players involved in a non-affiliated league would be selected for any of Ireland's underage international teams.
The primary function of the DDSL board is to act as overall guardians of the league, and there is a growing feeling that they should not be interfering in the football aspects of the operation.
Several members of the executive committee have resigned recently and, with more likely to follow, there is speculation that some of the league's 160 clubs are planning to call for an EGM to clarify the board's exact role in running the league.