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Explainer: The latest restructure at the FAI

Four key roles are being advertised within the Association this week, with Niall Quinn believed to be in the mix for a position.

Gary Owens and Niall Quinn, pictured at the government bailout announcement in January.
Gary Owens and Niall Quinn, pictured at the government bailout announcement in January.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THE RESHAPING OF the FAI continues. 

A year ago, phase one: the Governance Review Group, a joint FAI/Sport Ireland venture that returned 78 recommendations, all necessary to restore public faith and, above all, funding. 

Then-president Donal Conway said “there is no Plan B, this is Plan A”, and while his mission to have it adopted by the FAI Council was successful, many of its recommendations remain unfulfilled. 

That’s despite the fact that state funding to the FAI has not just been reinstated, but doubled as part of the state bailout of the Association in January. 

The FAI, in return for the money, agreed to a host of radical changes, which include splitting the board into six independent members and six football reps, and the resignation of all Council members with more than 10 years’ service at the next AGM. 

The Covid-19 shutdown has paused the Association’s attempts to have those rule changes approved at an EGM, and the FAI are keen to host that meeting in person, rather than vitually. 

And now a third major phase of change is underway, although this one is internal and Sport Ireland are very much hands-off. 

“As independent autonomous organisations, the staffing arrangements in any National Governing Body of Sport are entirely a matter for the boards of those organisations”, Sport Ireland told The42 this afternoon. 

Interim CEO Gary Owens explained the restructure to staff in a Microsoft Teams call last Friday. The overhaul was conducted with external HR consultant Yvonne Clancy, and also factored in were a series of meetings with department directors across the Association, who were invited to present changes they would like to see. 

The changes were presented to staff as a way in which to improve the FAI’s dismal public image. 

Owens told staff that the reputations agency Reptrak ranked the FAI as having the worst public image of the 100 organisations they evaluated, with a score of 31.3/100.

The next closest brand is Irish Water, with a score of 40.5. 

The Olympic Federation are ranked 95th, the GAA are 41st while the IRFU flying in fourth place. 

niall-quinn Niall Quinn pictured at the launch of the 2020 League of Ireland season in February. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Key to improving the FAI’s ranking, said Owens, was implementing a structural change and a cultural change at the Association. There is thought being given to a name change, too. 

The most significant structural change will see a reduction in the size of the executive team from 14 people to nine, all of whom will report to the CEO.

Owens is currently interim CEO, and although he is presiding over a wide-ranging overhaul of the Association, he has yet to say whether he will or will not apply for the position on a full-time basis. 

The FAI have not had a permanent CEO since March 2019, and the vacancy is currently being advertised.

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On Friday’s call with staff, Owens was asked if the restructure would be affected if he did not return as permanent CEO, which he responded to by playing down his role in the process and emphasised that it’s the product of feedback from employees across various departments at the FAI. 

In a strong endorsement of the early days of his work, Stephen Kenny will join the executive team as international football director, with Ruud Dokter on board as high performance director. 

Alex O’Connell will continue as finance director, and Barry Gleeson as international operations director.

The role of HR Director looks set to be publicly advertised. 

Another four roles have been advertised internally in the FAI, with interviews expected to take place next week. 

Those four roles are League of Ireland Director, Head of Grassroots, Chief Operating Officer, and Marketing and Commercial Director. Employees holding the equivalent roles at the moment have been invited to reapply for them if they wish. 

The FAI declined to comment this evening when asked why these four roles are only being advertised internally. 

Under the new structure, the Chief Operating Officer’s role is expanded, and will lead a team comprising Legal, Company Secretarial, Audit Risk and Compliance, Club Licensing, Registration, and Competitions Management, and IT and Data Intelligence. 

The League of Ireland Director’s role, meanwhile, is less rooted in the day-to-day running of the domestic league and more focused on its broader development, with the successful candidate tasked with meeting a range of targets for the league’s development, including clubs’ financial and European performances, attendance increases and brand development. 

The job description for the LOI role initially said the candidate would act as Deputy CEO if the CEO is absent, although that line was later removed, as the HR department told staff the line was included in error.

Niall Quinn is presently Deputy CEO on an interim basis, but that role has not been explicitly retained under this restructuring.

Sources expect Quinn to apply for the League of Ireland Director role, although some have indicated he may also have an interest in the Commercial and Marketing department.

Quinn’s current role was not recommended by the Governance Review Group last year, and nor was it publicly advertised prior to his assuming it. Speaking to The42 in January, Owens explained he made the decision to bring in Quinn, and that the decision was ratified by the FAI Board. 

“I need the best people around me and I decided that I needed to bring in Niall, because we need to regain public trust with all of the stakeholders, including sponsors, and he was the best person that I could think of to come in”, said Owens. 

“My strengths are going to be on restructuring, reorganising the Association to the way that it should be organised. Niall is great on the brand and the sponsorship side and as a team I think we are very strong. I put it to the board and it was passed. It is an interim position. Bear in mind that anything that we want to do in the long-term will have to go through a very rigorous process.” 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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