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The FAI needs a full-time executive board with appropriate governance... not a social club

Today Shane Ross hosts a stakeholder event to kick-off a transformation of Irish football. Expect a lot of what, a little how and even less why, writes John O’Sullivan.

Former CEO of the FAI John Delaney with Minister Shane Ross in November 2016.
Former CEO of the FAI John Delaney with Minister Shane Ross in November 2016.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

ARE YOU FAMILIAR with Ted Talks? Where interesting people share “ideas worth spreading”?

The Ted Talks and YouTube websites are packed with videos of inspirational, educational, entertaining and funny stories coming from diverse presenters across events in multiple countries. Some are hugely popular — one from author Simon Sinek has been watched 75 million times across multiple platforms.

Sinek’s central theme, and the title of a book he has written, is to “Start with Why”. He states great concepts, ideas and movements come from “Why”. Any organisation can tell you what they do or how they do it, but it is those that simply and strongly state why they act as they do that engage the public and excel.

Today, in the Mansion House, Shane Ross hosts a stakeholder event to kick-off a transformation of Football in Ireland. Expect a lot of what, a little how and even less why.

Feedback was sought from the public and many responded. However, of primary interest today is inevitably Niall Quinn. He and his consortium will present their 31-slide presentation for Irish Football.

Quinn and Ross have been massively and appropriately critical of the FAI this year, their anger shared by pretty much every person who has an interest in the game in the country. But their individual why is vague. Is the reason political opportunism, ambition, commercial interest or a genuine love of the game?

Niall Quinn Former Ireland striker Niall Quinn has a big interest in changing the future of Irish football. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Uefa’s Noel Mooney temporarily sits in the CEO chair in Abbottstown to see the FAI through the current crisis. Sport Ireland, Quinn and the Government have criticised his appointment. Ross did so in spectacular fashion in a Sunday Independent column last weekend.

Quinn and Ross have told us what should not happen, they’ve excited many by telling us what they’ll do, but both have been vague on how to achieve their lofty goals.

While I’m looking forward to reports from today’s session and eager that positive actions come from it, I’m massively sceptical about what appears to be a PR exercise organised for a business group by a Minister for Sport who hadn’t the slightest interest in football until criticism of its governing body got him airtime.

I’ve written about my issues with Quinn’s why previously, his professional relationship with Red Strike Marketing still concerns me as does this week’s leak to The Star that his group would “involve private investors in the provision of facilities and employment of coaches”, Why? Commercial entities want a return on investment and for all the money they claim will be put in, it’s the money coming out that needs to be clarified.

If the proposed academies are built by Red Strike Marketing who have signed a deal with PlayonPro.net – an organisation with the admirable goal of keeping ex-pros involved in football — should we expect famous ex-pros from the UK training our elite players without a coherent Player Development Plan? Also, the possibility of centrally contracting promising Irish players to a third party (which I believe is a legitimate risk) absolutely cannot be up for discussion.

Noel Mooney Noel Mooney is the FAI's new General Manager. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Ross, being a politician, wants to involve everyone. Hearing from everyone is admirable, giving them all a seat at the table is not. He has spoken about his desire to involve all stakeholders in Irish Football in the next FAI Board, that it should “include representatives of players, male and female, supporters, leagues.”

While it might be well-intentioned as well as being political opportunism, it proves the Minister’s distance from football in the country. He actually already has the bulk of his plan already in the shape of the existing National Council, while could be reformed from the irrelevant, grossly ineffective and obsequious council it became under John Delaney.

Ross seems unaware we have 32 individual schoolboy/girl leagues and even more senior leagues, all with their own agendas. Even more fractured are supporters’ groups, the national senior men’s side have supporters clubs and groups worldwide, few pay attention to the LOI or the SFAI.

There’s no LOI supporters’ group invited. The Irish Supporters Network (ISN) – who are invited to today’s meeting – is probably the closest, but even they can only claim to have membership from four to five clubs and cannot speak on behalf of those clubs. Their ethos advocating supporter ownership puts them at odds with some privately-owned clubs, which I experienced when working for Limerick.

Player welfare is obviously massively important, but to include the PFAI – which looks after professional players in the country – doesn’t necessarily represent the interests of Amateur or underage players.

Shane Ross TD Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The FAI is an organisation with a €50 million turnover these days, Ross’s proposal to involve everyone does not move us away from the fundamental problem that membership of the FAI board was granted as an entitlement for long and distinguished service to the game rather than based on the skills and abilities that one could bring.

The FAI needs a full-time professional executive board with appropriate governance, not a social club where people who spent decades lining the local pitch become responsible for the Aviva stadium and its debt.

The mansion house today will be full of people who love the game here, who have genuine interest in seeing it prosper but it’s uncertain if we’ll hear their voices. The fact that the event is held on a League of Ireland match-day is to exclude the league and our players, managers, referees and officials from the event, which already limits how much can be achieved today.

New ideas and voices are welcome, but we have a chance to take a breath and actually put a long-term coherent plan in place for football on this island. Nothing needs to be solved today. We should listen, we should discuss, but we should also ask why? Unless everyone knows why people are there today, the what and the how will become meaningless.

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