FAI Chairperson Roy Barrett. Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Uefa and Fifa voice support for contentious FAI reforms

The Association faces insolvency if the controversial changes do not pass a vote at an EGM later this month.

UEFA AND FIFA have endorsed the contentious reforms at the FAI, a boost to the hierarchy’s efforts to steer them through an EGM vote later this month. 

The governing bodies endorsed the changes in a letter to interim CEO Gary Owens and Chief Operating Officer Rea Walshe. 

In return for an €18 million state bailout to rescue the football body from insolvency, independent chairperson Roy Barrett signed a Memorandum of Understanding with then-sports minister Shane Ross in January, promising a series of reforms at the FAI. 

Two of these have proved contentious among some members of the FAI National Council, the FAI’s 79-person representative body.

The first is the removal of any Council member with more than 10 years’ service while the second, which has proved most controversial, is the changing of the composition of the FAI Board to consist of six directors elected from football constituencies and another six independent directors. That split is presently eight/four. 

In the event of a split vote, the independent chairperson has a casting vote. 

The rules must be passed by a two-thirds majority at an EGM to be adopted.

That latter agreement has led to heated arguments during recent FAI board meetings – conducted virtually – and has also led to revolt from some Council members, who fear such a rule change could cause the FAI to lose its sovereignty.

Jim Kelly, a county councillor and Council representative of the Leinster FA, called the proposed six/six split a “ticking time bomb” that “threatens the very existence of our Association as a sovereign body.” He garnered enough support among fellow members to call a special meeting of the FAI Council to debate the measures, which will be held on Friday afternoon. (Two rooms at the Red Cow hotel have been booked to comply with the government’s public health regulations.)

Another Council member Nixon Morton, wrote to Fifa and Uefa to voice his concerns at what he saw as “a titanic battle for the heart and soul of football in our country”. Morton claimed to be writing on behalf of a number of people, although has declined to say who they were.

Both of those governing bodies have, however, endorsed the changes Morton opposes. 

Barrett wrote to FAI council members on Tuesday night, and attached the letter of support from Fifa and Uefa. The governing bodies cited the FAI’s deal with the State – with all of its terms – as the only way to ensure the FAI does not default, as it has exhausted all funding from Uefa and Fifa. Also, striking a deal with the State means Uefa are not left as guarantors if the FAI were to default on a loan agreement with Bank of Ireland. 

In his own letter, Barrett explained the necessity of adopting the agreed reforms, writing that their voting down would lead the FAI to becoming insolvent and listing potential consequences, including the expiration of the FAI’s membership of Uefa and Fifa; the seizure of the Association’s shares in the Aviva Stadium; the loss of some or all staff jobs; and the voiding of all agreements with clubs and leagues across the country. 

Barrett also assured members that the new board, in its six/six split, will be answerable to the AGM, which, he wrote, is “the supreme and legislative body” of the Association. 

“This is a critical time in the history of our Association”, wrote Barrett. “As I said at the outset, we have important decisions to make which will determine the future of the FAI. We have a responsibility to everyone involved in football in Ireland to secure the future of our organisation and to build a bright future for Irish football.” 

Uefa and Fifa are the latest big-name stakeholders to endorse the proposed changes within the MOU. The new government issued a quick warning that the terms agreed with Shane Ross’ department must be met, while SIPTU, who represent FAI staff members, also issued a statement of support. 

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