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'The Day of the White Noise' - Risible silence causes most damaging week in FAI history

Sponsors are asking questions, domestic players are in open revolt, fans are protesting and even the Taoiseach is unimpressed with the FAI.

THE GENERAL POINT of international sport is to measure countries against each other, but Irish football remains happy to be its own counterpart.

So we find ourselves asking yet again: has this been the most damaging week of the FAI’s history?

John Delaney arrives John Delaney arrives at Leinster House on Wednesday. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Given this is an organisation that went to three World Cups and saw a ticket tout abscond with £200,000 in ticket revenue from one and the squad’s best player walk out on the eve of another, it’s not a question lightly posed.

So let’s run through the week that was.

On Monday it was belatedly confirmed that John Delaney would be going to the Dáil, as the FAI said that all of the requested delegation would be attending a meeting with a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Sport.

There then arrived a statement from President Donal Conway confirming so, and he struck a conciliatory tone with Sport Ireland, given that CEO John Treacy refused to endorse the FAI Board before the Oireachtas the week previous.

Treacy made a public appearance on Tuesday afternoon, speaking at an Olympic Federation of Ireland event unveiling a new ticket reseller and a partnership with Fukuroi City to serve as a training base for the 2020 Olympics.

Two broadcast journalists mentioned Saipan when quizzing the Irish Chef de Mission on the city’s facilities.

Treacy slipped away without doing any interviews, and The42 were told he had “a matter” to attend to.

Meanwhile, the media were briefed by the OFI’s President Sarah Keane and Chief Executive Peter Sherrard (once of the FAI’s Communications Department) on the new ticketing arrangement, which Keane turned into a spectacle of transparency.

Speaking of a recent meeting at the Association of National Olympic Committees:

I was leaving and I was handed forms for my per diem and I didn’t know about the per diem, so I said I’d just take that form with me. I brought it back to Peter and handed it to him, and said I’m not doing anything with that until we talk to the Board.

Keane added that she and the rest of the OFI are working to a “moral code.”

Then, at 4.29pm, we discovered the matter to which Treacy had busied himself with.

Sport Ireland announced they were withdrawing funding from the FAI with immediate effect, saying that the football body had broken Ts&Cs governing grant dispensation in their failure to disclose the 2017 loan.

Conway responded with a statement saying that the “the Association is keen to restore trust and confidence and rebuild the relationship with Sport Ireland as soon as possible.”

This continued his conciliatory tone to Treacy and Sport Ireland, having mentioned in Monday’s statement that “no disrespect was intended by the lateness of the letter of the 2nd of April or its brief contents” in reference to the FAI’s letter to Sport Ireland explaining the loan, sent the night before and hand-delivered to Treacy the morning of his Committee appearance.

And so the FAI’s Committee appearance began with John Delaney introducing a statement that hadn’t been submitted at all.

John Treacy Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

All opening statements were required to be sent to the Oireachtas Committee by noon the previous Monday, as was the case with Donal Conway’s 22-page oration on, among other things, the mechanics and benefits of the Glow Football Programme. 

Delaney’s statement, oddly, didn’t go along with it. 

The Committee took a break to read Delaney’s statement and a second break to consider it, and after they did so John Delaney told the world that “on legal advice I am precluded from making any further comments at this hearing in relation to the finances of the Association or my former role as CEO or the €100,000 payment either directly or indirectly.”

Delaney is perfectly entitled to take this position, but it meant that the public watched a man stoically insist that his loan was “for the good of football” while being far too modest to fully explain why.

Donal Conway did most of the talking from there, and we largely got a marathon theatre of deflection and obfuscation.

The FAI were reluctant to say too much given the reviews from Grant Thornton and Mazars – the independent reports commissioned by members of the same Board that will pay for it, remember – and were unable to answer such straight-forward questions as: who signed off on an incorrect 18 March press statement claiming that the Board were kept up to date on the loan at all times, when it turned out that the whole Board were only told on 4 March this year, which just so happened to be after the first Sunday Times query had been made?

Or whether the FAI have always had an active tax clearance certificate?

Or – given the loan was issued to prevent the FAI breaching their overdraft limit – why that overdraft limit was €1.9 million in 2015 and €1.5 million in 2017? 

Or whether the loan was included in the monthly financial statements for April 2017?

The FAI, in fairness, promised to send on answers to these questions afterward, but 48 hours after the Committee finished up they had sent on answers to…none of them.

So, the sequel to the Night of the Long Knives: The Day of The White Noise.

Given the fact that the FAI answered so little, there may be retrospective support for the early declaration that we should just all go home from the ever-discerning Michael Healy-Rae.

It was worth sticking out, though.

For one, we got a few iconic lines from the FAI, with Alex O’Connell’s assertion that in the handover of responsibilities from the previous Finance Director, his duties were mostly “future-based” pipped to top spot by Conway’s summary of the loan:

It was managed the way it was managed.

We also got an insight into the quality of governance at the FAI, with Honorary Treasurer Eddie Murray stating he reckoned the FAI have one bank account (whoops, it’s 24!) and said he didn’t feel undermined by the fact he was out of the loop on the loan issue for almost two years.

In light of all of this, you can’t argue with any taxpayer who would ask themselves if they really want their money to go to an organisation like this.

Plus, we learned that the Jonathan Hall report that recommended John Delaney become Executive Vice-President was commissioned after the first Sunday Times enquiry into the loan.

And while it was deemed urgent that Delaney assume that role on a Saturday night and Rea Walshe – who was promoted to Chief Operating Officer the month before and due to start the job the month after – be appointed interim CEO, Donal Conway told Catherine Murphy that “we have taken on board the recommendations of the Jonathan Hall Associates report but the fine details about their implementation, contracts and so on have yet to be signed off on.”

Donal Conway FAI President Donal Conway at the recent U17 Euros draw in Dublin. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Also important is Donal Conway’s saying that “we will not jeopardise sports council funding, so we’ll take whatever action we have to take” in response to Robert Troy’s question whether the FAI Board would step down if Sport Ireland were to make that a requirement of funding restoration. 

That places the ball firmly in Sport Ireland’s court, and while it’s unclear whether they will go that far before the Mazars and Grant Thornton reports are finished, John Treacy is back before the Oireachtas on Tuesday and expected to be unsparing in his response to the FAI’s performance.

The greatest benefit of the marathon sitting, however, was to witness just how committed John Delaney was to saying nothing.

When a patently nervous Alex O’Connell – Finance Director for all of two weeks – struggled to answer questions he understandably did not yet know the answers to, the long-serving former CEO stayed largely silent.

When Rea Walshe discussed the Genesis Report and had to clarify she wasn’t working with the FAI at the time it was commissioned, the administrator who promised its implementation stayed largely silent.

There was plenty of frustration among Committee members about all the silence, but the aftershocks of the FAI’s performance began pulsing on Thursday.

Sponsors have started to ask questions, with the FAI’s main sponsors taking the time to talk about the importance of corporate governance.

The players’ body of the domestic league are in open revolt, saying that “something is rotten in the FAI”.

Gary Rogers Gary Rogers. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

PFAI Chairman Gary Rogers called it a “new low in Irish football”, meaning the FAI are in an extraordinary position in which the first-choice goalkeeper of the domestic champions feels moved to lambast the league’s prize money as “disgraceful.”

The Taoiseach has said that he doesn’t think “anyone would be satisfied by” Delaney’s Oireachtas performance.

State funding has been fully cut for only the second time in the FAI’s history.

Fans are organising protests; the Leinster Senior League is canvassing clubs as to whether they believe the FAI Board should all stand down.

But then again, the FAI have been slagged off by politicians and fans and players and clubs plenty of times in the past.

What’s different about this week was how naked the FAI’s attitude to the general public was. 

During proceedings in government buildings on Wednesday, John Delaney – the man most identifiable with Irish soccer since 2005, who called the men’s senior team the “people’s team” at a media event in February this year – faced the following question from Deputy Ruth Coppinger.

Does Mr. Delaney think it is fair that he is answerable to the public in his roles, including in his current role, given that the public contributes through the buying of match tickets, football jerseys and merchandise? While he has said that for legal reasons, following the Angela Kerins case, that he is not willing to talk about it, does he not think he has a duty to the public to answer some questions?

 Delaney’s response:

I have read my statement as it is.

He could have answered in his capacity of Executive Vice-President, but he didn’t.

That was, of course, John Delaney’s right. 

But it was also his choice. 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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