FAI Pushes Back on Minister

The FAI has pushed back against Minister Shane Ross who yesterday wrote to the Association and President Donal Conway asking in no uncertain terms that he withdraw his nomination as President for a one year term from the forthcoming AGM.

The letter was sent yesterday and dispensed with many of the niceties of diplomatic language. He references two occasions and public comments from Conway stating that the entire board would step down before going on to say that “Contrary to this commitment, you have now been effectively re-elected as President of the FAI – you have been, somewhat unexpectedly, unopposed for this position. This was a reversal of your promise to bring reform to the FAI under new leadership.”

“Together with your decision to appoint former FAI employee and loyalist, Noel Mooney to the post of General Manager, this development means that the new regime has a very old look about it.”

The timing of the letter comes five days before the FAI’s EGM to make a number of rule changes in advance of the AGM on Saturday 27th July. Some of these changes “beggar belief” in the Minister’s words.

Yesterday we wrote of the nomination confirming that it would be for a one year term and that the standing again of Conway and Noel Fitzroy who will face an election for the post of Vice President so long as the package of reforms are passed, was sanctioned and even encouraged in the Sport Ireland, UEFA and FIFA backed report and recommendations of the Governance Review Group.

This point was made last night as the FAI issued a detailed response to the criticisms made by the Minister.

Their statement dropped at 8-15. It contained 13 areas in which it felt it was right to press ahead as indicated, despite the Minister’s concerns and read in full as follows:

  • The current Board of the FAI will, as indicated previously, stand down at the AGM on July 27th and remains fully committed to governance reform
  • The report from the independent Governance Review Group, for the FAI Board and Sport Ireland, states: “The Group consider that, for handover and transition purposes and to manage the serious risks where everyone leaves at once, at least one or possibly a maximum of two members might consider putting themselves forward for positions on the Interim Board.”
  • In accordance with the report, endorsed by the FAI and Sport Ireland, two members of the current Board have been nominated by AGM members to stand for the positions of President and Vice-President
  • Only one nomination for the position of President has been forthcoming from AGM members whereas 3 nominations have been received for the role of Vice President.
  • All eligible Council members have been aware since the letter to Minister Ross of April 16th – confirming that the current Board would step down on July 27th – that elections for these roles would take place on July 27th.
  • This position was further confirmed at the independent Governance Review Group, for the FAI Board and Sport Ireland Report, launch on June 21st
    On receipt of the independent Governance Review Group, for the FAI Board and Sport Ireland Report, the FAI immediately began drafting proposed new rules, a proposed new Constitution and proposed new Terms of Reference for the Committees to be established in accordance with the independent Governance Review Group, for the FAI Board and Sport Ireland Report recommendations as endorsed by the FAI and Sport Ireland. Following that work, nominations for election were sought
  • The independent Governance Review Group, for the FAI Board and Sport Ireland Report, also states that to be eligible for consideration for the position of President or Vice President of the Interim Board, a nominee should be a serving member of Council and have at least 2 years Council membership experience.
  • The new President will not chair the Interim Board as per the recommendations and the Interim Board will be chaired by an Independent Director as per the independent Governance Review Group, for the FAI Board and Sport Ireland Review Group proposals
  • The proposed constitutional change regarding the quorum for the Board states that it shall be two members of the Board of Management or such other number as may be specified in the Rules. Therulebook states that the quorum is 6. Therefore, the quorum is 6.
  • The FAI notes the Minister’s ongoing interest in and concern for the game of Association Football and shares the Minister’s desire to improve governance all across the Association
  • The Board and Executive remain in regular contact with Sport Ireland and have met with them on a number of occasions, as recently as today and last Friday
  • The Board will consider the Minister’s letter in full at its next meeting

Neither UEFA nor FIFA have responded to the latest exchange but the Minister’s letter must be seen as skating dangerously close to Government interference which both organisations are strongly opposed to.

The rerasons for that in some eyes are to preserve their own power base but a more measured view would indicate that it is to preserve the integrity of the sport from those who would seek to use it as part of political ambitions.

Thankfully we live in a democracy where sport is accountable but is also recognised for what it is and not a political plaything.

We understand where the Minister is coming from in terms of the new broom that is needed but we agree with the FAI on pushing back at a time when the reforms that are so clearly needed require some degree of finesse to overcome the concerns of many within the sport that ‘their’ particular corner of it is not being given enough care or influence.

Donal Conway has been in situ at the FAI since 2005.  He has accepted a degree of collective responsibility for not flagging the issues that have now forced the need for change but he has also accepted the burden of fighting hard for that change to be made.

He was described to Sport for Business last night by someone within the FAI as a fundamentally decent man in an almost impossible position.

If there were better suited individuals to take the reforms through what will be a critical twelve months they have yet to emerge.  Minister Ross also does not put forward an alternative solution which goes against political convention in finding solutions rather than pointing out problems.

He is right to continue to push and jostle those involved now in reforming the Association for the good of the game.  In defending the sport on this occasion though it looks like a two footed tackle.

Were it not for the fact of Dublin being an integral part of the EURO2020 Finals next year it may have drawn a yellow card from the international bodies.  Bearing in mind that a red card would be the suspension of the Republic of Ireland from international competition at every level, something which is unlikely but still not impossible.

Read More: FIFA Eyes are Watching Ireland

Politicians at every level from local to the highest offices of state put themselves forward often at the expense of what most of us would see as being a life of balance where we are able to sleep easily, spend time with our families and do what we can to make our society better, without sacrificing everthing on the altar of public interest.

Donal Conway is not a politician but he has put his hand up for this task, not to run the FAI, but to shepherd in the new way in which that will happen.

It would have been easier to take his teachers pension, to go back home and walk the dogs without the pressures of defending himself before media, politicians and public opinion.

He has not taken that route. If he saw their being another option I have no doubt he would have.  But there wasn’t an obvious one so he put his hand up.

John Treacy, CEO of Sport Ireland, will appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport from 11 AM this morning.

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