Sports minister Thomas Byrne. Bryan Keane/INPHO
Political Football

Sports minister warns FAI of 'serious consequences' if they fail to meet gender balance requirement

The minister also addressed the controversy surrounding pay to FAI CEO Jonathan Hill.

SPORTS MINISTER THOMAS Byrne has warned the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) they face “serious consequences” if they fail to pass a motion to achieve by the end of the year a minimum of 40% female representation on their board. 

All national sports governing bodies must achieve that gender balance by the end of the year, or else will face a 50% cut to their State funding and to their sports capital grants. 

An FAI EGM last Thursday failed to pass a motion that would have achieved that gender balance by adding another two directors to its board, both of whom would be female. The vote needed a majority of 75% to pass, but achieved only 67%. An alternative motion has been tabled by the Leinster FA, an FAI affiliate, which also calls for the addition of another two directors to the FAI board, but demands they are both elected from the FAI’s football constituencies.

The defeated motion put forward at the EGM proposed that one of the additional directors would come from the football constituencies, with the second an external independent director.

In return for a State bailout in 2020, the FAI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the government, with one of its conditions the reconfiguration of the board to consist of an even split of elected football directors and independent directors. The defeated FAI motion proposed extending the board to consist of a seven/seven split, whereas the counter-motion from the Leinster FA envisages an eight/six split in favour of elected football directors. The Leinster FA have proposed a vote on their motion at an EGM instigated by them, to be held on 2 December via an emailed vote. The FAI’s AGM is scheduled for 9 December. 

If the FAI cannot get an agreement over the line by 31 December, they will face an estimated cut of €4.3 million in core funding, along with corresponding cuts to sports capital programmes. Minister Byrne reiterated the stakes to the FAI when speaking in the Seanad earlier today. 

“I note the vote taken by the FAI and I note there is still time to take the appropriate steps before the AGM next month, to ensure they meet the target”, said the minister. “I would also remind people in the case of the FAI, there is a requirement in the MOU of a 50/50 split, independent and football directors. That 50/50 split is required regardless of the amount of directors on the board overall. The 40% target, if they don’t reach that, there will be very serious consequences.” 

Minister Byrne was speaking in response to questions tabled by Fianna Fail senator Shane Cassells, who revealed the FAI have withdrawn from a planned appearance in front of the Oireachtas Sport Committee next week, at which they were supposed to discuss their infrastructure report, which requests €517 million in State funding over the next 15 years to upgrade the country’s football facilities. FAI sources indicated to The 42 that they withdrew because the meeting was scheduled for the day after the men’s international game against New Zealand, in which prospective attendees will be involved. The FAI are understood to be seeking a rescheduled date. 

jonathan-hill Jonathan Hill, pictured attending Sunday's FAI Cup final. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

The minister also revealed he has requested a full report from Sport Ireland on the FAI’s compliance with the MOU, following revelations that State funding to the football body has been withheld because of excessive payments made to CEO Jonathan Hill. An audit commissioned by Sport Ireland found that Hill was paid €20,000 more than he should have, in the form of benefit-in-kind on travel and accommodation expenses and payments made in lieu of holiday leave not taken. Under the terms of the MOU, the CEO’s pay must not exceed that of a secretary-general of a government department. 

“When this issue came to my desk, I realised it would be a matter of considerable public controversy,” said Minister Byrne. “So I decided that the best thing to do would be to get a report on the overall compliance with the MOU. It’s absolutely essential that we publish that. This was a very public issue when it arose first. It’s a public issue now.” 

While Minister Byrne said the FAI’s compliance with its government-mandated overhauls has generally been good – Sport Ireland have endorsed the FAI’s implementation of 155 of 163 recommendations – funding will only be restored if Sport Ireland verify that the issues regarding Hill’s pay are addressed. 

“Any decisions with regarding to amending or extending the MOU or the provision of additional funding for 2024 and future years – similar to that provided under the current MOU – cannot be progressed in the absence of confirmation by the FAI and verification by Sport Ireland that the above recommendations are implemented. In relation to other commitments  of the MOU, the FAI has generally made good progress.”