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Wednesday 29 January 2020

FAI is toxic until old regime goes

No one thinks all bad news is out already says former boss O'Byrne

BAD NEWS: Interim FAI CEO Paul Cooke will deliver the soccer body’s accounts to the public today
BAD NEWS: Interim FAI CEO Paul Cooke will deliver the soccer body’s accounts to the public today

The politics involved in the basketball world is on another level to the never-ending crisis which is the Football Association of Ireland. Thankfully, for those involved with that sport.

For Bernard O'Byrne, former CEO of the FAI who now holds that position with Basketball Ireland, it's a relief in one way to be removed from the tumult which has engulfed Irish football for the last nine months, though the Dubliner takes no pleasure in the suffering which soccer is enduring.

"They can come out of it. They have to. As a sporting body, as a contributor to Irish society, they have to be rescued but not any any cost. It has to be rescued, and it will be," O'Byrne said.

And he feels that while football in Ireland can be saved, in fact has to be saved, the FAI is at present a damaged brand and finding a new sponsor will not be easy.

Seamless

Sponsorship of the FAI has been pretty seamless: from the Opel deal of the Charlton years to the eircom package which O'Byrne oversaw and then Three, but the decision this week by Three to back away has caused tremendous damage to the FAI and O'Byrne sees problems in getting a new major sponsor.

"If I was a sponsor and did a deal, if something major comes out in two months' time you'd be associated with it and companies just do not want to be associated with anything like that," says O'Byrne.

"I don't think anyone familiar with the story assumes that all of the bad news is out already.

"Even if it was a bargain deal on offer, I can see sponsors using the 40-foot pole to stay away until things improve.

"Image is everything and companies just can't take a risk, that label will be there beside the FAI and if the FAI are seen as toxic. It will rub off on the sponsors, they don't need it.

"They will eventually get a sponsor but unreleased reports, half-hearted attempts to change personnel, it's not a good time now, but if the right things are done it will be a different landscape in six months' time, especially if the team qualify for the Euros. They will get out of it, but not in the short term.

"They - very quickly - have to make clear they are making genuine attempts to correct what's wrong in the association.

"Half-hearted attempts won't convince anybody, we are talking about root and branch.

"On the upside, there are sponsors out there who will see the FAI in a weakened condition and that's not a bad negotiating position to start from.

"It is a hugely damaged brand but it could turn around quickly if they get four independent directors.

"Football is in a bad place, it has a bad image and people don't want to go near it. If you make some excellent appointments with recognised people who have clout, if you make structural changes within the FAI, that all changes for the better.

"So in a year's time it could be different with the FAI on the up and I hope that they are

"But the people from the old regime - and some of them I consider as friends - just have to go, there's no need for them to be around now to hand over a succession plan. They need to go."

The FAI's accounts will be published today, first to the 'stakeholders' of the game by email in late morning and then to the general public via a noon press conference as Paul Cooke, who had looked at the books in his role as Honorary Treasuer and Vice President but is now in effect the interim CEO, will have the honour.

"It's going to be grim, I know Paul Cooke, he's a friend of mine, and if he says people will be shocked that really frightens me. I'd be worried about that," says O'Byrne.

He was at the helm of the FAI when the body launched the eircom Park project, planning for a brand new stadium on the outskirts of Dublin which would be owned by the FAI and, based on projections of income from concerts and other sporting events, could be a cash cow for the FAI.

That was brought down by FAI internal opposition and political pressure, but O'Byrne says he can stand over his record in terms of the FAI's finances.

Surplus

"We showed a surplus I was there for five years and we tripled income and had a surplus each year, not always a big one but a surplus," he says.

"It was always a case of getting by, which is why we wanted the stadium in eircom Park which brought guaranteed money that was not tied to football draws.

"Now we with the Aviva we have a share in a stadium which is a huge financial burden on us, rather than a revenue generator.

"Eircom Park was not driven by the ego of the sport or of individuals, it was about driving funds to come in. 

"We'd sit looking at draws and be hoping to get Turkey or Germany as they were big payers for TV money, rather than some of the other countries where you'd get little TV money.

"Sitting and hoping is no foundation for a business plan so the thinking was to get a stadium that wasn't solely reliant on football for income. And it was stopped because of small-minded and short-sighted people," he added.

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