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FAI review licencing system as Owens criticises club facilities

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CRITICISM: Gary Owens. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

CRITICISM: Gary Owens. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

CRITICISM: Gary Owens. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

The FAI are planning a revamp of the Club Licencing system after admitting that the unpopular Participation Agreement, which clubs are forced to sign before entering the League of Ireland, is not fit for use while FAI CEO Gary Owens has declared that the League of Ireland has "the worst facilities in Europe".

The SSE Airtricity League season is on hold, like all soccer activity in the country, due to COVID-19, and while the FAI say they are still aiming for June 19 as the resumption date, it's expected that government restrictions will not have eased in time for that to happen.

It's possible that the league, where five series of games had been played, could resume in August or September and be completed before the end of the year, albeit with a shortened season, but clubs will also have to be prepared for no football being played in 2020 and the possibility that the current season will be simply cancelled.

The FAI remain in contact with clubs. There has been movement this week as the league's Steering Committee, which had been dormant since last year, will be revived while the association also contacted clubs to alert them to changes at administration level before they can access state funding.

The FAI have listed areas where clubs need to improve their standards (commercial viability, ability to compete at European level, player and spectator facilities, having women's and underage teams, and having a community presence), which would effectively replace the much-maligned Club Licencing system in place now.

Clubs have long been unhappy with many aspects of the Participation Agreement.

Derry City were fined €5,000 in 2007 because there was a link to an opinion piece critical of the FAI on the club's official website, various managers have been fined for critical comments in the media or in programme notes, and Limerick FC were denied permission to host a potentially money-spinning friendly with Barcelona in 2010.

Following talks with the FAI in 2017, the Premier Clubs Alliance body said the agreement was "very one-sided". And now the FAI have agreed.

In a letter sent to clubs this week, which has been seen by The Herald, FAI chief Owens said the Participation Agreement was "biased in favour of the FAI" and would be reviewed as part of a restructure of the League of Ireland which would demand that clubs raise standards.

"Clubs who do not meet the criteria required will not be allocated funds, or allocation of funds will be made on a pro-rata basis," a letter from FAI CEO Gary Owens said.

"One of the key deficiencies is the poor quality of the facilities, which needs to change. Currently we have the worst facilities in Europe and a significant capital programme is required to arrange initiatives to achieve this."

Meanwhile, Stephen Kenny has continued with the job of building his own backroom staff as long-serving kitmen with the senior squad, ex-international Mick Lawlor and Dick Redmond, have left their posts.

"After 21 years of being a very proud kitman for the Republic of Ireland my time has come to step aside," Redmond confirmed on twitter.

"I would like to wish Stephen Kenny and his team the very best of luck for the future and remember, we all win in their success."