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We do not have the slightest idea what the League of Ireland will look like in 2020

John O’Sullivan assesses the impact of the ongoing FAI controversy on the League of Ireland.
Apr 19th 2019, 4:25 PM 6,138 3

THERE’S BEEN A lot to digest in recent weeks about John Delaney, Oireachtas Committees, Sport Ireland, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross and the FAI board.

Piecing it all together makes it difficult to gauge where the FAI’s troubles expose the League of Ireland and what it means for the future of the game here.

Let’s start by looking at where we are today. Each club has a representative on the FAI National Council; the clubs hold 20 of the 60 seats, not a majority, but a sizable lobby group. The remaining 40 seats are held by different members of the football family, mainly leagues.

As a result of the clubs’ minority stake, the LOI is limited in the ability to affect the council, but as its primary concern is with the FAI rulebook, it often doesn’t look at the big picture and it very rarely questions the FAI Board, and never at the AGM.

There are perks for individuals on the National Council. I’ve been a member, representing League of Ireland clubs in the past. You get two VIP tickets for home Internationals. I used to give these tickets to the club to use as they saw fit. Once, I did use the tickets myself, bringing my son to a friendly game against Bosnia-Herzegovina. The tickets came with access to the pre-match reception and parking under the Aviva Stadium. If there are expenses for being on the National Council, I’m not sure; I never claimed anything back from the FAI.

Separately the 20 league clubs meet directly with the FAI at club conventions where they elect the chairman and vice-chairman of the league. The former sits on the board of the FAI, and both sit on the National League Executive Committee — along with the FAI’s Director of Competitions, and the CEO of the association — which is tasked with running the league.

The NLEC can be a mystery. In my time working for clubs I never saw any agenda or minutes from an NLEC meeting, though its outcomes directly impact on the league and clubs. I had no idea what the NLEC discussed, the terms of reference, and only became aware of decisions as they were communicated back without context.

To understand the impact of this, clubs do not know the amount of sponsorship coming into the league, nor do they know the amount of money coming from Uefa which is given over to the running and administration of the league. While we believe — thanks to the European Clubs Association and meetings at Uefa draws — that in other countries, the licencing process, disciplinary and league offices are funded by from central Uefa funds, LOI clubs really haven’t a notion what’s going on.

The chairman of the league sits on the FAI board and is the league representative on it. Eamon Naughton is the current chairman and scheduled to be so until 2020. He has been the league’s representative since 2006, standing for election every two years.

He was challenged by Caroline Rhatigan from Longford – then vice-chair – in 2010 and by John Croughan from Athlone in 2012. I was working with Athlone in 2012 and wrote Croughan’s delegate’s letter to the other clubs. Such was the atmosphere around any challenge that I heard back from many that both John Delaney and Eamon Naughton thought Rhatigan was behind that letter and Croughan’s decision to run.

To the best of my knowledge, Naughton has been returned unopposed in 2014, 2016 and 2018, latterly due to the Premier Clubs Alliance wanting consistency in its dealings with the FAI. He is one of the FAI board who will tender their resignation. The position of league vice-chair is scheduled for election in November 2019. We could – and, in my opinion, should – have new representation on the FAI board and NLEC by the time the 2020 season kicks off.

Of course, the 2020 season is still up in the air. The PCA have recently written to interim FAI CEO Rea Walshe expressing their dissatisfaction on the progress towards joint ownership and running of the league in 2020 and indicating they will now discuss running it with third parties, including Niall Quinn.

There will be distrust between the clubs and association at the moment and Walshe is a little exposed with Thursday’s news that Waterford have failed to get a Uefa licence to compete in the Europa league. Prior to her appointment as interim CEO, Walshe was Head of Licencing and Infrastructure. Waterford’s situation along with the huge concern around LOI related infrastructure projects for Drogheda United, Finn Harps, Bohs/Shels and Cork City already weakens her in negotiations, even if she herself did little to earn this weakness.

While it’s likely that the existing participation agreement will be rolled on for another year to buy time, leaving the FAI in control of the league, there has to be a fundamental change in approach and personnel in terms of league representation. 

There has long been an insinuation from the Association that the League of Ireland — the “problem child” — was pulling on resources to the detriment of other parts of the game. Now there must be a full and immediate forensic audit of the FAI which should tell us finally whether Uefa and sponsorship money for the league means a new third party can make it a vibrant and vital entity, standing alone. 

Right now, we do not have the slightest idea what the League of Ireland will look like in 2020, who will run it, and who will be representing us.

Given that the league has finally been established as a vital resource for Irish football, on and off the pitch, this uncertainty cannot be allowed to continue.

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John O'Sullivan

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