Sunday 26 January 2020

Time to find a solution

New slant on UEFA visit as FAI will now be involved in talks

UEFA General Secretary Theodore Theodoridis will be in Dublin today
UEFA General Secretary Theodore Theodoridis will be in Dublin today

In a Christmas of crisis for the FAI, January 14 was pencilled into the diary as a date of significance. The visit of UEFA top brass for a meeting with Shane Ross and Government officials was sold as a D-Day of sorts for football in this country.

Tension between Ross and the FAI painted a scenario whereby attempts to find a solution would take place without any input from an Abbotstown perspective.

That has changed somewhat since the arrival of three independent directors, most notably the new chair of the FAI board Roy Barrett, thus meaning that today's talks will take on a slightly different hue to what was originally anticipated.

A statement from the Department of Sport last night confirmed that UEFA will be accompanied by Barrett, the FAI's executive lead Paul Cooke and board member Martin Heraghty.

Earlier in the day, the indications were that the FAI would be on hand for consultation rather than centrally engaged.

Who is over from UEFA?

UEFA's only comment on the gathering is that a 'very senior delegation' would be travelling. The hosts confirmed that it consists of Theodore Theodoridis (General Secretary), Zoran Lakovic (Director National Associations), Josef Koller (Financial Director), Thierry Favre (Deputy Director National Associations).

Theodoridis is a senior figure, and Lakovic is close to UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin. Koller is well briefed on the FAI finances after being involved in the emergency attempts to get a handle on the picture during the summer and beyond.

Why are the FAI in the mix now?

It's clear that the Government's stance towards the FAI has softened since the appointment of independent directors. Barrett, Cooke and Heraghty went to meet Ministers Ross and Brendan Griffin last week along with the other two newcomers Liz Joyce and Catherine Guy. Barrett is viewed as a more palatable front man than president Donal Conway.

What's on the agenda?

As various sources have put it, the meeting is about finding a solution to the FAI's dire financial predicament.

The phrase 'risk-sharing arrangement' continues to come up in discussions; UEFA and the Government effectively need to come to an agreement that offers certainty about the FAI's ability to repay their main lender - Bank of Ireland - who are due €29million.

Last month, the Government turned down an FAI request for €18m in support. UEFA provided advance funds to the football body last summer, but are believed to be reluctant to forward more cash in the immediate term.

The Government have said they will not be simply write a cheque. But the FAI's bank loan arising from their Aviva Stadium debt effectively needs to be guaranteed and it's a matter of how the Government and UEFA find a way of doing that.

Future TV income from UEFA is an inevitable talking point. "It's not just about what everybody is prepared to do; but what they aren't prepared to do," said one source.

Can this all be resolved within 24 hours?

It would appear not. The UEFA team arrived yesterday and the suggestion is that they will be around for more than just a day.

An FAI board meeting should take place this evening so the top table can be briefed on developments.

Ross has indicated to other stakeholders that he will give them the full lowdown on where things stand on Wednesday.

SIPTU need to be informed for the sake of staff worried about their futures.

Ross also met at the start of the month with a delegation from the League of Ireland in order to get a handle on their concerns ahead of the meeting.

This was a response to Ross prompting panic by suggesting the league would go the same way as the FAI in a doomsday scenario.

Naturally enough, Bank of Ireland will need to be a part of conversations across the week too.

The FAI still have to draft a business plan with the threat of job losses hanging in the air, although Barrett has suggested in conversations that he is opposed to cost-cutting under that heading.

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