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'I’m almost in despair' - Brian Kerr slams FAI's proposals for reform

In a wide-ranging interview, the former Irish boss flags his concerns with the FAI’s new rules and how little respect he has for those that got Irish football into this mess.

Last Saturday, an FAI EGM voted 118 in favour and two against to adopt a new rulebook, needed to implement the 78 recommendations returned by the FAI/Sport Ireland Governance Review Group.

Brian Kerr Brian Kerr at the launch of Coca-Cola's €35,000 donation to Sport Against Racism Ireland. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The adopting of these reforms is one of the conditions necessary for the restoration of State funding to the FAI.

The Governance Review Group consisted of five people. Two were nominated by the FAI – Board member Niamh O’Donoghue and Chief Operating Officer Rea Walshe. The other three members were appointed by Sport Ireland – Chair Aidan Horan of the Institute of Public Administration, along with Dr Moling Ryan -a management consultant who recently worked as Interim Director and Chief Executive of the Irish Museum of Modern Art – and Joseph O’Leary, a partner in BMOL Partners. 

Now that the reforms have been passed, attention turns to Saturday’s AGM, at which the new 12-person Board will be appointed. It will have four independent directors, and it is hoped that four members of the Board will be female. This gender balance will be mandatory in two years. 

The Board is higher in rank to a newly-created Football Management Committee, where it is envisaged the business of football will be conducted. 

Although President Donal Conway promised Sports Minister Shane Ross in April that the whole Board will stand down at the AGM, the governance review report suggested that one or two of the present Board should continue for one more year, for transition and handover purposes.

Conway has thus been nominated unopposed to continue as President, meaning that he is set to stay on for a further year in defiance of both the government and Sport Ireland. 

Meanwhile, the FAI remain silent on the status of former CEO John Delaney, who has voluntarily stepped aside while an investigation is conducted. 

With all of this going on – The42 today sat down with Brian Kerr. 

Gavin Cooney (GC): Can you believe the mess the FAI are currently in?

Brian Kerr (BK): ”I’m almost in despair about how it has gone and where it’s at. The good news is there is still football taking place, but that the U19s are in a semi-final and in a position to win a medal has been kind of neglected to a degree and overshadowed by the controversy around the FAI, to a degree.

“It’s amazing that it has gone on for so long, and it is dispiriting for anyone who loves football, who has been attached to football, and who wants to see football being run as smoothly as it is by other organisations and other sporting bodies.

“Some of the things that have happened have been amazing. How we have ended up in a situation where Noel Mooney is in charge, and that Donal Conway is the president, and that we don’t know where John Delaney is or what his position is in relation to the FAI and Uefa – it’s extraordinary.

“I’m not over-impressed by the whole report and it has been referred to as an expert group. Who said it was an expert group?

“I think the composition of that group from the beginning has been remarkably overlooked. There may have been three experts on it in relation to governance and good ethics, but I don’t know where the expertise is on football.

“And there was no gender balance in that there the two people representing football from the FAI were women.

“So there was no gender balance from the start, and there was no football expertise on the Committee to the best of my knowledge. The other three people are not football experts, I believe one is involved in coaching at a very low level. Where was the football expertise?”

GC: The FAI would point to Niamh O’Donoghue.

BK: ”But what’s her football expertise? I know Niamh O’Donoghue, she was there when I was in the FAI. She was around women’s football. In fact, I worked with her in the selection of managers for the international teams. I also worked with her on a programme for the development of women’s football, and I promoted the idea of a full-time women’s football Development Officer at the time and the idea of a full-time manager of the national team, going back to 1999/2000.

“But her expertise is in administration. Rea Walshe’s expertise is in legal matters. So we allegedly had an expert group that had nobody who had any expertise in football.

“That is my core problem in terms of this report. 78 recommendations, the majority of them are very, very good and to me would appear to be standard practice around standards, ethics, evaluation and ensuring things are done right.

“But I don’t see where any football recommendations are.

Niamh O'Donoghue and Donall Conway give Sue Ronan gifts before the game Niamh O'Donoghue (left) with Sue Ronan and FAI President Donal Conway, pictured in 2016. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

GC: Donal Conway’s position has become a political football over the last couple of weeks, do you have an opinion on whether he should continue?

BK: ”I am on my own on this one, in that I didn’t think that the people who wrote the report were qualified to do a report that involves football. They were qualified in terms of governance, and ethics, and to review the structures in the FAI, but they have come up with something called the Football Management Committee.

“They have put out the idea that this will be the key Committee on football, and I checked the wording of it this morning: ‘The Football Management Committee will advise the Board on the development, promotion and regulation of football.’

“But the composition of that – the President of the Association will be the Chair of the Football Committee. So Donal Conway, who in my view has no expertise in football – he has expertise in administration and in school’s football – is going to be the Chair of the Football Management Committee.

“Surely the Chairperson of the Football Management Committee should be someone with a knowledge of football?

“When I say that, I mean the technical side of football.”

GC: But Donal Conway will say that he has coached underage teams, has been involved in the schools’ game for years, and has been around the game for a very long time.

BK: “Being around the game is a lot different to being the Chairperson of the Football Management Committee.”

GC: Can you clarify what you mean by a knowledge of football?

BK: “I mean an experience of coaching or management or playing the game at a high level. That’s what I mean. Technically, to understand the game and what’s required to develop the game and appointments around the game.

“We haven’t had that in the FAI. The Football Management Committee is to be composed of the President, the Vice-President, one from amateur football, one from Schoolboys/girls football, one other elected, plus six Chairs of National Football Committees plus three additional members to be co-opted by the Board if deemed necessary.

“So as an afterthought, we might get three other people, but they’ll be co-opted by the Board. It doesn’t say that those three people have to be – have to be – football experts.

“So I think this report has missed a major part of their responsibility. It’s missed the point of reviewing the football side of the game, and who is going to improve the structures on the football side of the game in the future.

“You asked me about Donal Conway – Donal Conway has been part of the group for 14 years now. In many ways, I have been a lone voice for many years in saying that they were all there too long.

“I’ve gone from them since 2005, and I made the point five years ago that the same crowd were making the decisions as made the decisions that I should go; that they were all too old and they needed revitalisation; that they needed new people.”

GC: Did it annoy you that you were the lone voice on that?

BK: ”Yeah. I understood that there was a reticence in the media to be critical, as there had been several legal letters flying around the place. That seems to have become a tradition in the recent era of leadership.

“But I couldn’t understand why other people weren’t saying these things.

“But let’s think about these 78 recommendations. There was no specific recommendation that anyone from the Board should stay on, it was mentioned that it might be worthwhile for one or two [two stay on for a year.]

“It was a suggestion within a recommendation.

“Now we have one who is definitely going to stay, who has been one of the longest-serving of the previous regime, who gave the impression all along that there’s nothing to see here and appeared in front of the Oireachtas and was part of the stonewalling of questioning on that day.

“He is now coming out as the knight in shining armour as the new President. We have another one who might be staying on in Noel Fitzroy, and in a buy-off to get the schoolboys vote, we have another [John Earley] who may be staying on.

[Note - John Earley of the SFAI resigned from the FAI Board two days before the Governance Reform Group’s report was publicly announced. He did not respond to a request for comment.]

“And then, where are the women going to come from, as there has to be women on the Board? There are currently two women on the Council as I understand it – one of them is Niamh O’Donoghue, and another is Frances Smith, who has been on the Council for years and years.

“So we could end up with more than three on the new Board, who will make the decisions about the people who will be co-opted.

“So we have no guarantee that those co-opted people are going to be people from the areas I suggest we need. They don’t just need to be from business, legal, and commercial backgrounds. They need football people.

“This is the most exasperating thing, that none of the decision makers have experience in football as a player, coach or manager at a high level. Other countries do that.”

GC: They are going to bring four independent members on to the Board?

BK: “But it doesn’t guarantee that they will have football expertise. I have discussed this with people on the Council and they agree. Yet we end up with a vote the other day of 118 to two for the full acceptance of these rules as they were threatened that funding wouldn’t come back, and that the whole package must be accepted.

“Yet the whole package wasn’t accepted as they conveniently decided to change the age limit [for those sitting on the FAI Council] from 70 to 73, all of a sudden.

“So who is that serving? It is serving the people that are already there.”

GC: Do these recommendations, that will be sold as reform and proof that the FAI are moving to a new era, have any credibility in your eyes?

BK: “They have some credibility in relation to the areas that should be obvious and should be taken for granted that that level of ethics and governance are already in place. But the football side of it, and the specifics of the decision makers and who they are going to be, has me exasperated.

“People who have been involved in supporting the regime for so long, who have made so many mistakes, a regime that told us that we would be debt free by 2020…”

GC:…that will now be 2030 or later.

BK: ”But I’ve always said that we should not be trying to be debt-free by 2020, and paying off the stadium. We should be investing money in the game and the development of the game and the development of our senior league, our underage structure and our international teams.

“I’m delighted the U19s are in a semi-final, we might end up with a first medal in 20 years – I think it was this week in 1999 we were in Sweden – but why did it take so long? Why has it been so neglected?

“Because we were busy ploughing money into the stadium and ensuring that is where the focus was. Now it appears that the organisation is insolvent, despite the turnover of €50 million a year. It’s just…I’m not surprised. I saw the wastefulness around the international team.

“The suggestion now is that they may cut jobs. I think there is a lot of room to cut money around the international team.”

[Note - In a statement released on 15 May, the FAI said that a claim by SIPTU that they were in danger of becoming insolvent in a "matter of weeks" was "unfounded."]

Donal Conway Donal Conway, pictured at last Saturday's EGM. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

GC: What would you cut?

BK: ”The numbers that go out on trips. The numbers of blazers that go on trips. It would be interesting to see what the costs were around the Euros in 2016, what should have been a remarkably profitable time.”

“It would be interesting to see how many travelled, the expenses for their upkeep, travel, expenses, rent, meals. This is where ethics, behaviour and governance need to be.

“Now it appears that the leader’s birthday party may have been part-funded by the FAI [as was reported in last week's Sunday Times.]

“Knowing how hard people at the lower levels of the game are working, consistently with great courage and dedication, for very little money, yet money elsewhere was being frittered away.

“Around the senior international team we have had squads announced of 35 to 40 players, and numbers in the 30s being brought into train, some of them at very short notice. They don’t buy the flights for those weeks before, they buy them days before or a day before. You and I both know how costly it is to buy a flight at short notice.

“That is an area where a lot more common sense can be applied to save money if there is a shortfall, and it is only one area. There could be a tightening up there, rather than a tightening up at underage level with player development programmes.

“They have all been cut back drastically over the last seven or eight years.”

GC: There will four independent members nominated to the Board. Would you do it? Would you join the Board if you were asked?

BK: ”I would think I’d be one of the last people in Ireland to be asked to do it, given they haven’t spoken to me about anything since they told me my contract wasn’t going to be renewed.”

GC: You’ve had no official contact with anyone of influence at the FAI since 2005?

BK: ”I had contact with personnel in the coaching department as I had to ensure my coaching badges stayed up to date, so I had to formally attend a two-day conference so I had to fill out an email, pay the money and turn up, which I did three years ago.

“I had a phonecall from a person in the commercial department who isn’t long in the FAI asking if I’d like to turn up at the U17 Euros this year as their guest, and I told them that I was going anyway and that I didn’t need to be going as their guest. I’m quite happy to go and pay into matches, which I always do anyway.

“But no, is the answer. Nobody in a position of authority in the FAI has been in contact with me.

“But that’s not particularly relevant as there are a lot more people, like Packie Bonner, Declan McIntyre, Pat Fenlon, Tony Mannion, Padraig Nicholson who have been discarded by the FAI or left the FAI because they felt unwanted or unloved.

“Their expertise was lost and I don’t think their expertise was replaced by people of equal quality.”

GC: When you look back at your achievements with underage teams up to the senior international team, is it tainted at all by some of the people running the game, how they have run it, and how you were subsequently treated by them?

BK: ”No, it’s not tainted. My time in football, none of it is tainted by the behaviour or actions of people I have no respect for.

“I had little respect for them when I worked with them. The people I worked for before the last lot, Bernard O’Byrne, Brendan Menton and Fran Rooney, Kevin Fahy and Milo Corocran, I had respect for them. Des Casey to a degree, I dealt with him more often when he was with Uefa than the FAI – those people I respected as they understood the game and let the football people get on with that side of the game and they listened to your opinion.

“But no, nothing I did in football or my love for it, and the people I got to know [is tainted.]

“The majority of them are exasperated. The morale of the staff in the FAI, I’ve known for years, is on its knees because of the style of leadership that was there.

“I’ve had sympathy for those working there. The place is crying out for leadership, for new leadership, for vibrant, charismatic and knowledgeable leadership. But they are shimmy-shammying around ensuring the rules are sorted, that their own position is protected maybe until the 2020 Euros, when their blazers can be more and more extravagant as the tournament goes on.

“There was a time when the size of the football on your blazer indicated your status. The late, great Liam Tuohy used to joke, ‘Look at the size of the ball on yer man’s blazer.’

“Nowadays it’s not like that, but they might go back to it.

“I can’t understand the rush to implement all this change so suddenly, when there are so many reports outstanding and so many mistakes have been made in the past. Why are they so eager to fix things in the shortest possible space?

“It’s to put their own new people in place, that’s what it appears to me. Rather than putting outside people in place from the earliest stage.

“I don’t think the Noel Mooney six-month fix was a good move at all. “They seem to be saying among themselves that ‘We know what we are doing’, and 118 people nodded ‘Yes.’

“That is extraordinary, that there wasn’t independent thinking. They voted in their usual blocks, they must have all agreed to vote together. Where were the independent minds among that lot to say, ‘Hold on here, ease up?’

“They were obviously convinced by the roadshows that took place, but they don’t seem to understand that there is another part of life out there in which people are looking in saying, ‘What is going on there? How can this be right?’

“The people have seen what went on at the Oireachtas, the people have read the newspaper reports by Mark Tighe in the Sunday Times, and they are looking at it saying, ‘These are the people who let that happen. It was under their watch, and now they are saying they should be in charge for the reforms?’”  

 

Brian Kerr was speaking to promote Coca-Cola’s partnership with Sports Against Racism Ireland. Coca-Cola will donate €35,000 to their projects this summer, and are giving Irish football fans a chance to win tickets to a Premier League match of their choice. For more details, see this link. 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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