The deal has been done and football has been saved. That was the positive message coming out from the Department of Tourism, Transport and Sport on Leeson Lane yesterday after a package of support from Government, UEFA and the Bank of Ireland was agreed.
As a party to the deal UEFA have agreed to a number of additional requirements on governance at the FAI, insisted on by Government as part of their funding around two-thirds of the immediate cost of the financial restructuring.
That means the danger, evident throughout the past nine months of UEFA effectively red carding the FAI on the grounds of Government interference has now passed.
The Government will double its funding of €2.9 million in very specific grants towards the promotion of the game at grassroots level and through positive initiatives like the Football for All initiative which reaches out effectively to disadvantaged groups and people with disability.
An element will also be earmarked for support of the Women’s international team that had already been released, and for the SSE Airtricity League and the So Hotels Women’s National League.
The grants will be administered as before by Sport Ireland but come with additional requirements in Governance including the expansion to six, including the Chair, of independent directors on the FAI Board.
Changes to the structures of the FAI Council and a ban on former directors taking up any roles within the Committee structure of the sport are political in nature and while understandable from that perspective do also inadvertently bar good people like Niamh O’Donoghue from playing an active role in the development of the Women’s game.
The final element of the Government contribution to the deal is the payment of the FAI’s obligation to the Aviva Stadium over a three year period.
This will be made directly to the company that runs the stadium but will go on the books as an interest-free loan to be repaid to Government by the FAI on top of the revival of direct payments from 2023.
The Euro’s are important but that places extra emphasis too on qualification for the Qatar World cup which will conclude in December of 2022.
This was always going to be a four-way agreement with the FAI themselves undertaking a new approach to its business planning and its Governance and UEFA and Bank of Ireland also having ‘skin in the game.’
The Bank as expected has asked for details of the commercial terms of their contribution to the deal to remain confidential as would be expected.
UEFA have also asked that their element not be made public, at least for now though that will emerge in time over the coming year’s accounts of the FAI.
It is likely that this will take the shape of an extended repayment period on money drawn down in advance on TV rights and support though the Hat trick and other programmes as well as a restart from scratch on when future payments may be made.
Creditors of the FAI are reported to be onside with the new business plan and while the spotlight of publicity that has accompanied this whole saga is certainly different, the plan is in many ways similar to many that will have been put in place to help distressed companies that have overextended to survive.
Reports cannot be forgotten
Of course, the reasons behind that ‘overextension’ have yet to be fully revealed and the reports of Kosi which has been lodged but not released, as well as those of grant Thornton and most importantly the Office of Corporate Enforcement, cannot now be simply forgotten or moved to the side.
There is anger from the usual noisy voices of ‘outraged taxpayers’ over how additional money is being made available to the FAI but if the total additional grants over four years actually amount to €11.7 million, that actually equates to €56,250 a week.
Yes, it is a lot of money but Government spends a lot of money in places that are far less impactful on our society and if that is the price that has to be paid to save the sport then we have to live with that.
Other sporting bodies will perhaps be looking to their own needs and feeling a sense of unfairness and there is plenty in that but over the long term, these things have a way of working themselves out.
The current Board and interim CEO Gary Owens and interim Deputy CEO Niall Quinn have six months, maybe less, to make a mark now ahead of the next AGM and the appointment of a permanent CEO.
They may be asked to take on those roles themselves on a longer-term basis. There will though be a copper-fastened approach to the appointments and with a salary cap imposed as part of the deal with Government, it may be that some of the leaders from business who might be most effective, might see it as a step into too deeply troubled waters for less than they are making elsewhere.
A replacement partner to take over from Three is an important step that can now take higher priority, as is the promotion of the benefits that will accrue to Dublin and Ireland from hosting Euro 2020.
There are games to be played, players to be developed, Leagues to be run and maybe altered, and so much more besides.
These are all elements of the story that is far from over.
For now, though peace has broken out. Ministers Ross and Griffin can return to the electoral beat in Dundrum and Kerry. Messrs Barrett, Owens, Quinn, Cooke, McEnaney and more can return to the day to day business of making things work now that the threat of doomsday has been removed.
Lats night they may have collectively raised a glass. This morning it is time for strong coffee.
Read More: Relive the Detail of the FAI saga
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