The FAI’s Iron Fist in a Silk Glove

Every good politician knows when the time is right to deliver the heaviest blows.  Every comedian knows that the art of the best performance is in the timing.

Rebels within the FAI’s Council, hoping to overturn the rescue package for the Association negotiated in January are learning the lessons of both this week.

On Friday it was announced that a special meeting of the Council had been convened for this coming Friday at the Red Cow Moran Hotel, on foot of a petition from 20 Council members.

How many will want to travel to Dublin to sit, even in a socially distanced room, will become apparent on Friday evening.

The number, regardless of how hard done by they might feel, will probably be less after receiving a letter last night from FAI Chairman Roy Barret outlining the reasons why the deal needed to be done, the reforms put in place and the repercussions of them not being accepted.

It was an iron fist wrapped in the silk glove that of course the AGM and the Council was the ultimate decision-maker and the most pre-eminent group within the Association but these were never going to be easy times and the thought of a return of all those who had stood by in the darker days of governance issues over recent years, regardless of their ‘football pedigree’, is anathema not only to Government but now, we know, even to their erstwhile backers in UEFA and FIFA.

Barret’s letter included the support for what needs to happen by way of reform from both those bodies, who rebels might have held up as protectors of football independence from Government control.

They clearly see this less as control than as necessary intervention with financial support.

A media briefing this morning will doubtless reiterate the sword of Damocles hanging over football should the reforms not be accepted at the next AGM when that eventually takes place.

The commentary will hit the newspapers on Thursday morning giving enough time for those planning on travelling to fill the car or make their excuses.

For the avoidance of doubt, Barrett’s letter last night outlined the threats very clearly:

It is vital that the implications of not supporting them are also made very clear: State funding will end which will result in the FAI becoming insolvent with the following potential consequences:

• Agreements with all clubs and leagues throughout Ireland will be voided

• Membership of FIFA and UEFA in its current format will expire

• Our shares in the Aviva Stadium will be seized

• Some or all of our staff will lose their jobs

• There will be no capital investment in our facilities

• Risk to the staging of Euro 2020 in Dublin

• No opportunity to bid for future international competitions at all levels.

Last week, the Board of the FAI met with our relevant Government Ministers and both Ministers made it very clear that a failure on our part to implement the governance changes the Board committed to will mean there will be no Government funding. We all need to fully understand the implications of this.

Those implications are pretty clear.  It’s in the hands of the football family to decide if opposing reform or seeking to amend its format, is worth the risk.

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