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The FAI will tomorrow unveil their plans for reform - why it's important, and what happens next

Big change is proposed for the embattled football body.

THE FAI AGM, the artist formerly known as The Festival of Football, has this year been unofficially rebranded as A Festival of Corporate Governance.

Granted, ‘Corporate Governance’ belongs with ‘Republic of Ireland 0-0 Northern Ireland, November 2018’ as one of those dreary things about which nobody knows too much beyond the fact they don’t want to know anything more, but when it comes to the FAI, it’s significant.

Noel Fitzroy, Jackie Maguire, Mick McCarthy, Tom Kelly, Sharon Tolan, Mary Murphy, Colin Bell and Barry Ferguson Vice-President Noel Fitzroy and managers Mick McCarty and Colin Bell at the launch of this year's FAI AGM. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

At 11am tomorrow, the FAI and Sport Ireland’s joint Governance Review Group will release their report into how the crisis-hit football body is run and how it should be changed.

Its provenance is one of the most significant acts in the fallout to revelations about John Delaney’s €100,000 bridging loan to the FAI in 2017 – Sport Ireland’s pulling €2.9 million worth of state funding to the FAI, over the Association’s non-disclosure of the loan. 

It’s only the second time in history that the FAI’s state aid has been fully cut off, and it won’t be restored until Sport Ireland are happy the FAI have made changes to how they are run.

The FAI are in danger of losing money beyond this aid – Sports Minister Shane Ross has said that FAI applications to the department’s large-scale infrastructure fund won’t be considered until the football body get their house in order.

Tomorrow, then, will see the release of the FAI’s blueprint for doing just that.

At the end of April, Sport Ireland and the FAI formed a five-person Governance Review Group to draw up proposals on how best to reform the FAI.

It featured two FAI representatives – Board member Niamh O’Donoghue along with Rea Walshe, then interim CEO and now the Chief Operations Officer- along with three nominated by Sport Ireland, Chairperson Aidan Horan among them.

They have spent the last couple of months seeking input from people across Irish football as to how the FAI should be run, and also accepted submissions from the general public. The Group were also in attendance at Shane Ross’ stakeholders’ forum in May, where guests from across Irish football discussed how best to change the FAI.

The full report will be made public at 11am tomorrow, ahead of a press conference featuring FAI President Donal Conway.

A draft of the report was put before the FAI Board last week, and a few details of the proposed changes appeared in the Sunday Times last weekend.

The main proposal is the reshaping of the FAI Board into a 12-person group, four of whom would be female and a further four independent.

It’s also reported that it will recommend the retention of two current Board members – despite the fact that all members of the present Board have promised to step down at the AGM on 27 July.

Before this crisis kicked off in March, there were 11 people on the FAI Board. It included the President, Vice-President, CEO, Honorary Treasurer and Secretary and then drew representatives from a series of different Committees.

John Delaney arrives John Delaney. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

John Delaney gave up his membership in March to take the role of Executive Vice-President, while Michael Cody and Eddie Murray – Honorary Secretary and Treasurer respectively – resigned amid the fallout to the FAI’s appearance before an Oireachtas Committee.

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Schoolboys’ FAI chair John Earley resigned from the Board yesterday, saying he was left with no choice because of a “combination of recent events during the ongoing governance review and the failure to address my concerns at board level.” (We’ll come back to this.)

Under their own rules, FAI need seven members present to make a Board meeting valid, so they are, to briefly use FootballManSpeak, down to the bare bones.

After the recommendations are made public tomorrow, it will then be down to the FAI to agree to adopt them.

They will be either accepted or rejected by the FAI at the AGM at the end of July. To pass, the reforms will need a two-thirds majority from 175 voting delegates.

Under the current rules, the new structures will take eight days to come into play.

Will they pass? Given the financial stakes, the level of government pressure and public opinion – it would be remarkable if they didn’t.

The FAI, however, have never held too much reverence for the remarkable, and in Earley’s resignation there are hints that may be some opposition to the reforms. The Irish Times last night reported that Earley stood down over a lack of Schoolboy representation under the reforms, and the paper also floated the possibility that the SFAI will vote at their AGM next week to block the reform proposals in July.

That may, of course, not happen, but it does offer a small hint that uniting the FAI’s many separate, affiliated groups into supporting the same vision for the future may not be entirely plain-sailing.

If it is passed, then it will be incumbent on the FAI to adopt the proposals.

As it stands, Sport Ireland’s direct interference with these reforms ends tomorrow, but there is a strong argument to say they should oversee its implementation.

This won’t be the first time the FAI have been told it would be best to add some independent folk to the Board – a key recommendation of the Genesis report almost seventeen years ago was the appointing of two independent, non-executive directors to the FAI Board.

That never happened.

Sport Ireland have been clear that they don’t see themselves as a regulatory body for Ireland’s various sporting bodies, but had they – or another group – been tasked with keeping a tighter eye on the FAI after Saipan, perhaps football fans could today be afforded ignorance over Corporate Governance.

As it stands the FAI are on the cusp of important, revolutionary change.

Tomorrow we will learn more about what is planned  – then focus will turn as to whether it will happen. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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