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Explainer: The latest controversy threatening to cause a rift within the FAI

Nixon Morton — an FAI Council member — has written to both Uefa and Fifa to express concerns over perceived issues with the new set-up.

FAI HQ (file pic).
FAI HQ (file pic).
Image: ©INPHO

IT MAY BE a new era for the Football Association of Ireland, but divisions continue to exist within its set-up.

The latest controversy has seen Nixon Morton — an FAI Council member — write to both Uefa and Fifa to express concerns over perceived issues with the new set-up.

The letter, which was sent to FAI President Gerry McAnaney as well as all 79 of the association’s senior council members, was subsequently leaked to several media outlets.

Among the concerns raised were recent initiatives including the increase in the number of independent directors from four to six and a clause dictating that FAI council members who have served 10 years or more must step down this year.

Morton and his supporters are understood to be seeking another three years for those members with 10 or more years service.

However, a source told The42 that Morton’s views are not necessarily reflective of the majority of the 79 council members, and newer members not being asked to step down imminently are unlikely to support their colleague’s views.

“I think there’s an element of people feeling bad about what happened in the past [with the FAI]. They probably feel bad they didn’t speak up and I think they want a chance to make amends.”

FAI council members receive no financial compensation for their work and don’t even get complimentary match tickets anymore, so it is understood that one of the primary concerns of those who are disgruntled is more to do with the sense that they feel scapegoated for problems largely created by those above them in the hierarchy.

In addition, how Uefa and Fifa respond to Morton’s letter remains to be seen, though they are unlikely to be entirely satisfied with the current FAI set-up.

Football’s world governing bodies have been clear on their disapproval of political influence on associations, and last year wrote to express their concern over a letter at the time from Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross to then-FAI President Donal Conway asking him to withdraw his nomination to be re-elected to the role.

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The current proposal to have six independent directors and six football directors with the chairman who’s an independent director having the casting vote does give significant influence to ‘non-football people’ — a state of affairs unlikely to sit well with Uefa and Fifa on the basis of their past comments and actions.

Yet with the Irish government assisting the FAI and rescuing them from potential financial catastrophe, they will feel entitled to have a say in how the association is run.

This situation may be re-examined in future, but for now, there are more pressing concerns.

Perhaps the main hope for Morton and his supporters is that once a government is formed, a new minister rows back on the severity of the measures imposed by Ross, and allows the more experienced members to stay put for a longer term. However, it would take a brave politician to reverse earlier promises of sweeping changes at all levels within the association.

So is there a sense that Morton and co are fighting a losing battle?

“I think they probably are,” a source says. “The way it’s going to be presented is at an AGM to bring these rules into being. People may not like these rules, but I think ultimately it’ll pass.”

Those members who feel aggrieved at supposedly being disproportionately punished may be justified in their complaints, but just as important as genuine widespread change is the perception of it, which is why Ross and others have been insistent that these strict measures be maintained.

Meanwhile, the FAI board are set to meet this evening, with this latest controversy expected to be up for discussion.

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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