Wednesday 29 January 2020

FAI saga bogged down and in real danger of sinking

Noel Mooney
Noel Mooney

It started on St Patrick's Day and it won't be over by Christmas.

Around the FAI, firefighting mode has become the new normal. But they have no control over the extinguishers.

The last Wednesday of November was supposed to be about the future.

Noel Mooney marked his final day in the office at Abbotstown by launching a new refereeing strategy for 2020-2025.

The interim boss - who returns to UEFA following this weekend's Euro 2020 draw in Bucharest - spoke about other initiatives that should be rolled out.

He referenced plans for equal pay for the men's and women's international teams, a story that would have garnered much more attention on another day.

Mooney also expressed his confidence that Ireland would qualify for Euro 2020 and his belief that Mick McCarthy's replacement, Stephen Kenny, can stay on for more than one term.

He even dealt with the thorny issue of Robbie Keane's future by confirming that Kenny will ultimately pick his backroom team going forward. The fact that Keane is under contract for longer than McCarthy is a major oddity of the succession plan.

But it won't be Mooney's problem. And by the time the evening came around, his earlier observations had been completely overtaken by events.

There are problems he inherited which have made the football a sideshow to a traumatic bigger picture.

Keane's employment dilemma pales in comparison with the concerns of staff who don't know what the future holds for them.

The announcement from Shane Ross that the KOSI report into the FAI has been referred to the Gardaí is a further blow to the Association's attempts to leave the past behind.

Hours earlier, Mooney had indicated his frustration at delays into the reports with the completion of the Sport Ireland-commissioned KOSI audit expected to be the first step of a process that includes the reconvening of the AGM - with finished accounts - the appointment of four independent directors and the findings of the Mazars report which is being paid for by the FAI.

We already knew that the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) enquiry into the FAI could take years rather than months.

But the fact that the KOSI probe has now become a Garda matter raises questions about where that will go and how long it will take.

Legal advice is driving decision making and the conclusion that publishing the report now would be inadvisable has now cast doubt on whether it will ever enter the public domain in its entirety.

This is a problem for the FAI as they have always pointed to these reports as a sign that they are taking on board the lessons from this disastrous period.

Ultimately, the KOSI audit arose from Sport Ireland and FAI trips to the Dáil to face politicians on the Oireachtas Committee.

Those committee members have now been told that it's not possible for them to see KOSI's final report.

This is hardly going to advance the cause of the restoration of State funding. And it presents issues for the FAI in their battle to improve a battered image.

Mooney conceded that a major aspect of his brief was trying to appease sponsors who were concerned by the stigma of negative publicity.

"Looking at the organisation itself, we need to build trust," said Mooney.

"Trust with the public and even our own stakeholders.

"The accounts will come over the next few weeks. From seeing years of profits, that won't be the case over the next few years. I can safely say that.

"The FAI will have to be careful with its resources, like any business. But there's high potential there."

It was followed by a rallying cry to government, a call for a greater level of support for the most-played game in the country.

Certainly, there's a valid argument in that. The State could have done more for football under a number of headings, but the FAI don't have the leverage to make that point right now.

The 'reviews' were intended to uncover the truth and plot the way forward.

If they disappear into the legal realm, the FAI will remain in limbo.

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