The Irish Independent is reporting this morning the existence of a group of FAI employees and politicians who are creating a plan to split the FAI in two with a ‘grassroots’ led arm supported by up to €10 million of state funding and the FAI as we know it, licensed by international governing bodies being left to manage the elite end of the sport.
It is only natural and right that at a time of crisis that all options should be explored though state intervention such as is being suggested comes with a number of challenges.
The way that sport is structured here and around the world tends to rely on two principal streams of funding.
The first of these is the trickle-down impact where the kind of sponsorship, broadcast and other commercial revenue that is drawn to a sport is used to fund the foundations on which it is built. It’s a model of watering the roots from above.
The second, and which applies to most sports is the one based on the value of volunteer contribution of time and fundraising from within a community.
The Irish Government has down the years been good at supporting local and regional support through the provision of Sports Capital Grants that have created a better infrastructure than would otherwise have been possible.
It also provides substantial funding to sport through Grants administered by Sport Ireland. These go to all National Governing Bodies including the big three of the FAI, IRFU and the GAA.
The funding of each amounts to around five per cent of those sports income. In most other cases it is well above fifty per cent.
Horse Racing and Greyhound Racing benefit from a separate scheme, the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund which is administered by the Department of Agriculture. The basis for this being originally established, and which still holds true, is that the funding supports over 10,000 jobs, mainly in rural areas.
Back to the splitting of football, this would be a step that might be more difficult in reality than it would in the statements of politicians and the support of personalities like Niall Quinn and Brian Kerr, both of who are said to be lending their support to the idea.
The first is that the new organisation would have to be licensed either by the FAI or separately by UEFA in order to organise competitions.
Where would the breakpoint come between grassroots and elite? Where would a club like Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians or Cabinteely sit with underage development, community reach and SSE Airtricity League teams playing in the FAI Cup?
Would the new organisation take on the organisation of insurance requirements for players and clubs, their registration and governance? I know it sounds mad to suggest that the FAI is better at governance than, well anything, but it does provide a single point of contact which is important.
How would other sports feel about €10 million, representing between 15 and 20 per cent of the annual Sport Ireland budget, going towards a new body looking after one sport that has gotten itself into financial difficulty?
Government has precedent in stepping in to bail out institutions, though the banking and insurance sectors are arguably of greater strategic importance than a sport.
Even then the bailout was based on payback either through the insurance levy we all still pay, or the higher taxes and charges we all have to bear for the multi-billion bailout of our banks.
Where would the levy come from to fund grassroots football? Is it part of the plan that annual fees paid to GAA clubs, rugby clubs and athletics clubs should have an additional levy. That is plainly ridiculous but it is the model for bailouts of the past.
There is also precedent for the state stepping in to save jobs but that tends to be specific and even then rare as the market tends to be a better judge than sentiment on the relative importance of one investment over another.
There is a model in sport that clubs and grassroots provide the base of the pyramid and provide pathways for children to engage with sport in their community and progress through to either social or more competitive sport as they grow through their teens and into adult life.
They are inspired at times by the actions not of their peers but of those they see on the television whether they are wearing green, red or the stripes of Barcelona. There is a connection between the different levels of the sport, even if that is more obvious in a child’s eye than on a balance sheet.
The purpose of a pyramid is to be that, reaching to the greater potential. Without the point, what would be the point?
There are massive lessons that need to be learned from the actions of individuals and the corporate entity of the FAI, from all those who stood back and failed to monitor, from all those who are and will be charged with doing better in the future.
We do not have a Premier League that can go out on its own two feet backed by multi-billion investment from commercial revenues and private owners with state deep pockets.
Looking to the model that exists between the Premier League and the FA in England is like comparing an eagle to an ant and saying the latter could fly higher if only it had wings.
Sport for Business has spoken in-depth with Kieran Lucid and clubs who have ambitions to raise the game here. If they succeed it will benefit all.
The distraction of thinking that Government should fund grassroots sport, with taxpayer money, as a quick solution to a structural crisis only muddies the water even more.
But that’s just an opinion and maybe there is a lot more to the ‘plan’ than has been revealed. We will wait and hope to be surprised in a pleasant fashion.
Read More: Explore our Coverage of the FAI Crisis