It almost always comes down to money in the end. Yesterday’s suggestion from Minister of Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross that the FAI may not be eligible for Capital Grants from Government could be the tipping point for the way the Association reacts in the very short term to questions over governance.
Last week’s session in front of the Oireachtas Committee which shadows the same department was one that stalled on what was not revealed. John Delaney had every right to plead legal advice on not talking about his personal involvement following comments from members of the Committee that would be sufficient for a mistrial in a court of law and against the background of Supreme Court deliberations over how far a committee can go.
We have said throughout that it is the investigation of the Office for the Director of Corporate Enforcement that will have the greatest role to play in determining what wrong might have been done and what steps need to be taken to bring the company, as opposed to the sport, back into line with accepted practice.
Sport Ireland’s withholding of €2.7 million until satisfactory answers over how that money has been spent and how the FAI manages its governance and reporting was born of frustration from a lack of information and was made in order to increase pressure to get things right.
Taking the funding of the former Olympic Council of Ireland as an example of oversight, the insistence on individual payments being assigned to individual programmes was one that made good sense within the structures of an organisation that derived most of its income from a supernational organisation, in that case the IOC, in the case of the FAI from UEFA.
Concerns over the continued programmes being put in place through the work of co-funded officers in local authorities has been raised and this has to be a key area of attention for the FAI as it seeks to restore both the confidence and the flow of money from this Sport Ireland, and ultimately Government source.
The intervention of Minister Ross in relation to Capital funding is timely and likely to cause real pressure from the oft-cited ‘football family’.
The first set of funding announcements under the 2018 Round of Sports Capital Grants for clubs sent notice of money coming to 29 football projects in 15 counties around the country and totalling €1,289,300 in value.
In the last full round of money distributed from the 2017 round Football secured €7.25 million in funding.
The current round has applications that were four times in excess of the total €40 million on the table.
If there is a question mark over these applications it will impact on clubs and communities up and down the country. The work is done on applications, and the hope invested by volunteers is at a local level. The money goes directly to clubs as opposed to through the FAI but if the governing body is deemed not to be in good standing then the impact will be felt like an earthquake throughout the sport.
The main focus from Minister Ross’s comments has been on the impact through the Large Scale Infrastructure Fund, the applications for which close on Wednesday. We heard last week that interim CEO was signing off on the FAI application for a development in Glanmire. We also know that projects including the redevelopment of Dalympunt Park and projects involving Drogheda United and Finn Harps will be on the application list as well.
This is a €100 million fund for starters and will also be heavily oversubscribed.
The amounts on offer through both these schemes dwarf the amounts paid to the FAI in current and programme funding and casting doubt on them will hasten the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons.
Meetings have been held across the weekend and it is understood the Board will convene formally today.
Last night the FAI issued a statement which said that “The Association wishes to assure all parties that it is taking many urgent steps to address its current governance and financial issues.”
It went on to outline that “the FAI has sought the assistance of Sport Ireland in relation to a number of matters. The FAI is engaging with Sport Ireland on the composition of a new governance committee with additional independent members and the appointment of an independent person to the committee of the board examining the current issues. The Association plans a root and branch review including of its rules and processes.”
“The FAI has offered Sport Ireland the opportunity to assure itself that all government funding provided to the FAI was and continues to be used in the appropriate manner.”
“The Association continues to work to restore the trust of its stakeholders including the Minister and Sport Ireland as soon as possible. The FAI wants to ensure that all those who play football across Ireland do not suffer as a result of the actions of the Association.”
It has also undertaken to provide information that was sought on a factual basis at last Wednesday’s meeting to the Oireachtas Committee by this evening.
These matters of Governance are above and beyond the continued membership of the board of any individuals and while they are part of it, and a significant one in terms of public interest and media scrutiny, they are only a part.