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Day of drama shows FAI have not yet learned lessons

TDs queue up to criticise but the pace of change is still in hands of under-fire FAI

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STRONG CRITICISM: Sport Ireland chief Executive John Treacy arrives at Leinster House yesterday as the FAI controversy developed new layers. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

STRONG CRITICISM: Sport Ireland chief Executive John Treacy arrives at Leinster House yesterday as the FAI controversy developed new layers. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

STRONG CRITICISM: Sport Ireland chief Executive John Treacy arrives at Leinster House yesterday as the FAI controversy developed new layers. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Another day, another kicking for the FAI.

And they weren't even on the field of play for this latest embarrassment, where criminal charges are very possible after the FAI's auditors, Deloitte, formally informed a state body that "proper accounting records" were not kept at the FAI.

"The fact that the books were not being properly kept is an appalling disgrace, a shameful episode in the history of the FAI," said TD Fergus O'Dowd, chairman of the Oireachtas who probed, or tried to probe, affairs at the FAI that have been the talk of a nation for a month.

But the completely dysfunctional behaviour of that body was clear to see, in the public eye, as the FAI were dragged, kicking and screaming, to the stage where a complete overhaul of the way football in Ireland has been run for 100 years is possible.

The idea that the FAI knew for at least 24 hours, during their meeting with Sport Ireland on Monday, that Deloitte had contacted the Companies Registration Office over the improper accounts, but did not inform Sport Ireland, was utterly shocking. It is proof, to many, that the FAI as it stands is simply incapable of reform.

Serious

If they deliberately kept that information private, it's serious. If they wanted to delay it as they were unsure when the information would be made public, then that should be career-ending for all concerned.

"They haven't changed, it's unbelievable. I still can't understand why they wanted that extra time," said O'Dowd of the non-disclosure.

"It was extremely disappointing, totally unsatisfactory," was the view of Sport Ireland chief John Treacy.

The FAI were told that their funding, cut off at source by Minister Shane Ross in the last week, will not be restored until changes, real changes, are made at the very heart of the organisation. An end to the decades-old system where delegates breeze through the ranks, from the grassroots up, and attain a seat at the high table, has been called for.

Minister Ross's vision was that it "would be appropriate to include representatives of the players, both male and female, supporters, coaches, volunteers and leagues" on this new board.

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CRUCIAL MEETING: Kieran Mulvey, Chair of Sport Ireland, arrives at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

CRUCIAL MEETING: Kieran Mulvey, Chair of Sport Ireland, arrives at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

CRUCIAL MEETING: Kieran Mulvey, Chair of Sport Ireland, arrives at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Given that only two years ago the FAI point-blank refused to engage with the PFAI, the recognised representative body for players, in their dispute over the women's international team, the prospect of the PFAI having a seat on the board is ground-breaking.

But the problem is that Sport Ireland, who have given the FAI €48m in 10 years, can only ask for, not demand, change. Same with Shane Ross and his Department of Sport.

It was admitted yesterday that there was nothing to stop current members of the FAI board from standing for election to the new board once they get around to it.

But apart from withholding funding for a long spell, a move which would see dozens of coaches put on the dole queue (60% of the €2.7m which Sport Ireland gives to the FAI is used to pay for regional coaches), the FAI still hold the power. They can wait until their AGM in nine weeks' time to reform, or hold an EGM this weekend. The choice is theirs.

The last 24 hours underlines just how toothless a body like Sport Ireland are when they go into battle with a body like the FAI. The report by Mazars is already compromised as the FAI are the ones who commissioned it.

The real work will be done through the investigation by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), as they are the ones who can get their teeth into what has gone on behind closed doors at Abbotstown.

Credit card usage by FAI staff, third-party payments from FAI accounts, the controversial Jonathan Hall report all have to be probed, but reform has never been more urgent.