Nineteen Minutes in a War of Words

Throughout the afternoon we were at the Sport Ireland National Sports Campus hearing positive stories about Irish sport and preparations proceeding with greater planning, execution and preparation than ever before for next year’s Tokyo 2020 games.

A sizable delegation from Japan was over for a series of meetings and to sign a variety of agreement all of them very positive with regards to the state of Irish sport.

But as we prepared to leave the Campus phones started pinging with the latest and escalating word games around today’s Oireachtas hearings involving the FAI.

First out was Sport Ireland, at 16:28 with a statement saying that the Board of Sport Ireland were suspending funding to the FAI with immediate effect and withholding the 50 per cent of the €2.7 Million money allocated for 2019 until “the Board of Sport Ireland is satisfied that all necessary processes and controls are in place to ensure the FAI’s ongoing compliance with the Terms and Conditions of Grant Approval.”

It was an invoking of clause 1.1 of Sport Ireland’s terms and Conditions of Grant Approval, in light of the FAI President Donal Conway’s admitting that the FAI had failed to comply in 2017 with Clause 4.3 of the same T’s and C’s.

That reads “In addition each organisation undertakes to notify Sport Ireland in writing without delay in the event of any material deterioration in its financial position or of any other matter which may jeopardise the organisation’s overall financial viability and/or its ability to comply with its commitments in the Approved Submission, and thereafter to provide Sport Ireland with such information and documentation as Sport Ireland may request in connection with the relevant matter and any steps being taken to rectify it.”

The Board has determined that the FAI was in breach of this and that none of the evidence, documents or explanation offered up over recent weeks has satisfied the need to make the FAI compliant again.

It is an open-ended suspension and will be considered at all future board meetings until it is satisfied that not only the full truth is known around FAI Finances but that measures have been accepted and adopted to write any areas that may be wrong.

Nineteen minutes later the phone pinged again, this time with the FAI response.

It states that “The Board of the Football Association of Ireland notes the decision of Sport Ireland to suspend and withhold the balance of funding due in 2019, as conveyed by letter this afternoon. It is unfortunate that Sport Ireland now feel compelled to take this action in the wake of recent events.”

It then goes on to reference the fact that this is money which was always ring-fenced and used exclusively for development within the game.

Specifically, the statement references that “The €2.7million funding Sport Ireland provides annually to the FAI is crucial to the development of an inclusive approach to football in Ireland.”

The subtext of the use of the word ‘inclusive’ suggests that the first programmes to be hit might be those within the remit of Football for All, led by Oisín Jordan which has been a gold standard series of programmes aimed at translating football’s universal appeal towards bringing minorities into sport and physical activity.

No decisions will have been taken over the course of those nineteen minutes and we do not yet know what the phasing of Sport Irelan’s payments would have been. If they were timed on a calendar year basis then the Association should have enough to cover programmes for another three months.

Hopefully, that will be time to fix whatever needs to be fixed in time that payment might not actually be missed.

It is far from ideal but these are days of high tension within the organisation and today’s hearings may yet give time for those on the delivery edge of football a chance to draw breath and plan for what is needed.

Getting new Season Tickets launched will help the cash flow and UEFA will be conscious of wanting to have a successful U17 European Championships and is unlikely to let short term cash considerations impact on that.

The FAI Delegation will have an uncomfortable day today. They will tread with trepidation over the lobby of the Committee Rooms section of Lainster House, pictured above.

How they respond to specific questions will hopefully clarify what has happened in the past, is happening in the present and will happen in the future.

Football will survive. The shape in which it will be governed is what is on the table at the moment. That will take longer than nineteen minutes to determine.


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