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Uefa bailout FAI's only remaining hope, says Chair of Oireachtas Sport Committee

The football body are in a mess, and they can’t rely on the State to bail them out.

Fergus O'Dowd (file photo).
Fergus O'Dowd (file photo).
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

FERGUS O’DOWD TD, Chair of the Oireachtas Sport Committee, believes a bailout from European football governing body Uefa is the FAI’s only route from their present financial crisis. 

At a meeting with the Ministers Shane Ross and Brendan Griffin on Monday night, the FAI laid out their financial position and, according to Minister Ross at today’s Committee meeting, asked for a government bailout to the tune of €18 million.

Citing a finding by the now-quarantined forensic audit conducted by KOSI that states the FAI are not presently fit to handle public funds, Minister Ross turned down the request. 

Minister Griffin revealed during today’s Committee meeting that the FAI’s debts are closer to €62 million, which includes monies owed to Uefa along with net liabilities published with their 2018 accounts a fortnight ago. 

The FAI are presently being kept afloat by the early drawdown of Uefa funds due to them in the future, and are currently engaged with their bank in order to secure a financing package that will guarantee their future. Auditors Deloitte refused to sign off on the FAI as a going concern in those recent set of accounts, such is the gravity of the financial crisis facing the FAI. 

Ministers Ross and Griffin will meet with Uefa representatives in Dublin on 14 January to help plot the FAI’s future. 

Speaking to reporters outside of session after the Committee meeting had concluded, Deputy O’Dowd believes a bailout from Uefa is now the FAI’s only remaining hope of securing their future. 

“Obviously the government is going to meet with Uefa”, said Deputy O’Dowd. “They are going to bail them out if it comes to that. That’s what I thought, anyway.

“The Irish public will do everything to bring a resolution to it, but what the taxpayer is going to do is a different thing.

“The issue is where is the money going to come from. The government view is that it will come from Uefa. The government are there to give guarantees and help in any way, to push the agenda for change, to push the agenda for independent directors, they are pushing all of that.

“The only way is if Uefa bails them out, that’s what I think. The government are standing there to assist.

“[Uefa] seem to be the only people who have the money, have the resources and have committed resources already.” 

When asked what would happen if Uefa were to refuse, Deputy O’Dowd replied, “That’s end game, really.”

Should the FAI be put into liquidation, it would have enormous consequences for football in Ireland. There cannot be a national league without the national football association, and international teams are not allowed compete in international competitions in the absence of a national league. 

“The impact of that is you have no national team, the League is gone, assets presently used by clubs and owned by the FAI could go into private ownership”, said Deputy O’Dowd.

“You have 200 jobs [in jeopardy], it is a huge crisis. I think it is very important for Uefa to get involved.” 

One potential fix to the FAI’s cash crisis is to sell their stake in the Aviva Stadium. The FAI own 42.5% of the Aviva, with the rest owned by the IRFU. Given the scale of state investment in the stadium, however, any potential sale needs to be sanctioned by the Minister for Sport. Under a signed agreement, the stadium’s primary use must be for sport until 2040. 

When the prospect of the State buying the FAI’s stake in the stadium was raised with him, Deputy O’Dowd replied, “[The State have] already paid €190 million, so I presume it could fall into their hands, I don’t know. I would prefer to see Uefa or the government there rather than the banks.” 

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Gavin Cooney

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