herald

Monday 24 July 2017

Saipan mark two for FAI

FAI Chief Executive John Delaney
FAI Chief Executive John Delaney
Republic of Ireland Women's National team

Has the FAI's motto, We Care About Irish Football, ever sounded so hollow?

It's rare that women's international football takes such a hold on the nation's attention but the storm that's erupted around the senior women's international team over the last 24 hours is not something that happened overnight, but has been brewing for two years.

The FAI have defended their stance in their dispute with the women's team, first with a non-conciliatory statement issued in response to a remarkable press conference held by 14 members of the senior squad, which stated the FAI were "deeply disappointed" that the team "threatened to withdraw from playing for their country" next week, and then there was a radio appearance by their High Performance Director.

But the FAI have lost, and badly lost, the PR battle.

Imagine: Irish international players looking for the best of equipment, training camps, nutrition advice and accommodation to enable them to represent their country on the world stage, while the blazers in the FAI tell them that everything is grand: very like Roy Keane's world circa May 2002. A penny for Keane's thoughts today.

Ruud Dokter even used the phrase "we do care" when speaking to RTE radio last night and stated how far the FAI had gone, in his view, to develop the game here and try to avert the crisis which leaves a doubt over Monday's friendly at home to Slovakia.

But the Dutchman's words would have met with raised eyebrows among the girls in the Ireland camp, for whom years of frustration have now boiled over.

Particularly hurtful for the players was an email, whose tone was astonishingly aggressive, sent to them late on Sunday night.

"Your current stance... will not yield any positive results but will in all likelihood damage women's football and its future development," said the official mail, signed by FAI employees Peter Sherrard, Sue Ronan and Ruud Dokter.

"We would urge you to consider seriously, both individually and as a group, how your proposed actions could damage your club careers with club penalties for refusing to play international football, your international reputation as players and your responsibilities to the many young people who look up to you as role models." Hard to take. "When you have put so much into it, to be threatened like that is very upsetting," senior player Karen Duggan said.

"I find strength in that the whole team supported us, we have gone through a lot of very stressful situations, it shows our strength that people want to carry on," team captain Emma Byrne told The Herald. "It probably would have stopped before but everyone knows this is the turning point for women's football."

What is the issue? It's a number of matters, like the funding of the women's game in Ireland, how the international teams are prepared and kitted out, the financial burden that lands on the girls from their involvement.

But it's now a lack of respect. The players claim they expressed their grievances to the FAI two years ago, but in direct talk little progress was made.

"We have been banging our heads against the wall, we have had meetings with the FAI, the FAI would say they were 'productive meetings'. Productivity suggests that action was taken and it wasn't," says team member Karen Duggan.

So they engaged the PFAI, but the FAI would not accept the PFAI as representatives of the players and insisted on an independent intermediary. "The association has never dealt with the PFAI with regards to international football, either on the men's or women's side, that's board policy," Dokter said.

Yet, in a January 2016 statement issued by the FAI upon agreeing a deal on Euro 2016 player bonuses, Robbie Keane, speaking on behalf of the players, acknowledged the part played by "our representative Ciaran Medlar."

In all this, there's a game to be played on Monday. Duggan says: "This is hanging over us and we want to play on Monday but we can't let this go on, now is the time to do it."

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