FAI Discussions Enter Final Stages

The dance continues that will lead to a solution for the problems that the FAI got into over the last decade.

There are four left standing now and the choreography has worked to get us almost to the point of a finale that will have everyone applauding.

The Government, led by Shane Ross had plenty to occupy itself yesterday with news of the election date breaking just before the UEFA delegation arrived at a mad busy Leinster House.

We have three weeks now of electioneering and the role that sport plays in our society is one that means we will be looking for a conclusion to the FAI uncertainty in that timeframe.

Tough Guy

Minister Ross has been the tough guy in this, allowing little room for manoeuvre on the part of the FAI and forcing its hand towards a process of genuine reform that might not have been fully bought into otherwise.

When there is a tough guy though he always risks stepping on others feet and principal among those has been UEFA.

There were moments over the past nine months when Government interference was seen as being of enough danger to merit serious consideration of suspending the FAI. If it had not been for Dublin hosting four games in the Euro’s that might yet have come to pass.

The decision to come to Dublin and meet yesterday to discuss solutions might still have been a lot frostier had it not been for the obvious softening brought about by Roy Barrett coming in after a long delay as the independent Chair of the Association.

That had been delayed in part because of uncertainty caused by the Ministers strong statements and of the precarious financial position that he and his fellow independent directors were walking into.

Mood

In the last week, however, and it is only in that time period, there has been a visible change in mood. The meeting yesterday did not need to start with dire warnings of what might yet have been on the cards. The fact that the FAI, which is the third party to the dance was represented only by Barrett in Government Buildings may have been necessary for the optics externally but if he had not been there then UEFA might have chosen to cancel themselves.

An hour later, and that is sometimes all it takes once you finally decide to talk with each other rather than at each other, and it seems as though we are now close.

The Ministers sporting credentials have sometimes been questioned but he is good at absorbing the language around him and his assertion that everyone will have ‘skin in the game’ is right out of the locker room.

UEFA said little but the role of the administrator is to get things done as opposed to taking credit and the likelihood is that they were able to give forecasts and projections of future income to officials from the Bank of Ireland who they were sitting down with as the Ministers spoke to media and went back to their constituency thinking.

Today it will be Government and the Bank sitting down. There will be no bailout, no cheque written, but in the world of finance in the modern era it is more about assessing future risk rather than counting coins.

Commercial

The Bank of Ireland will benefit in commercial terms from continuing to loan money to what they have been and will be assured is a good long term proposition.

Football is not likely to disappear and looking at the fact that sport accounted for over half of our most-watched TV programmes in 2019, neither is the broadcast, sponsorship and other commercial revenue which it generates.

The FAI is a monopoly provider of licences and international teams and a monopoly in a strong long term sustainable market is considered to be a good risk.

Sport and politics are played to a final whistle, be that a game or an election. The moment, the 90 minutes, the next round of polls is more important than the longer term.

Money though is the opposite. The greatest gains come from the long term. In a historical perspective, Germany was financially punished after the First World War that finished just over 100 years ago.

Good risk

It made the final payment on those penalties in October 2010. That’s what the long-term looks like. Germany was seen as a good risk and so that was OK. The Bank of Ireland will only need a nod of approval from Government and UEFA that the FAI are a similar good risk in order to restructure the debt which has been built up.

No CEO of the FAI will be able to come back and say it is a debt-free organisation in their tenure, no matter how long that is. But so long as there is working capital, funding for programmes and occasional success in the sporting arena to keep us interested and occupied, then that is really not the most important thing they will be faced with.

To use one final sporting reference we are now into injury time and the prospect of a deal is leading. So long as there are no defensive errors on the part of the old guard of the FAI, or no showboating from others on the ‘pitch’ that lead to a slip, the game will conclude, the players will shake hands and the spotlight will switch to the appointment of a new CEO and getting back to running the sport.

Almost there.

The FAI, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the bank of Ireland are al members of Sport for Business.  We will be looking at the Sporting year Ahead together with many others next Thursday, January 23rd in the FAI Suite at the Aviva Stadium.  See below to join us for the session.

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Image credit: Morgan Treacy, UEFA

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