To The Forum We Went for the FAI

The ancient forum of Rome was a place where commerce was transacted and political statements were made. Fast forward 2,000 years and the FAI Stakeholders Forum in the Mansion House on Friday was not too far removed.

It was an opportunity for the ‘football family’ to gather and speak to Government and the FAI leadership about where they saw the Association amid the troubled months of recent exposure.

It was called by Minister Shane Ross and was a chance for him to continue his personal crusade for change in the way the sport is governed.

There was a Government presence through himself and Minister of State Brendan Griffin, as well as representatives of their Department throughout the room and at every table to listen and gather the voices of football people.

Sport Ireland was present through CEO John Treacy and Paul McDermott. So too was the FAI itself in the person of acting CEO, until yesterday, Rea Walshe and Director Niamh O’Donoghue. They both sit on the Governance Review Group whose Chairman Aidan Horan was also present.

There were officers and officials from the Association there as well, at the top table but also throughout the group, lending their own personal opinions to what should happen next.


The rest of the room was made up of individuals and groups who had taken the time and made the effort to make a submission to the Governance Review Group. Sport for Business was present in this capacity. Ours was one of the roughly 125 submissions that were made.

Given the amount of noise and opinion that has been expended in the past two months you might think that number was on the low side. It is. This was an opportunity to make a case for real reform and to build something positive as opposed to just throwing rocks.

The idea was a good one and a perfect example of how democracy should work in terms of giving people a voice, just like the ancient forum of Rome. Back then though it would appear that there were more people willing to stand up and state their case.

Among those who did was Niall Quinn and he had a chance to share his vision as part of the first of two discussions that took place, hosted by Darragh Maloney, and which helped to guide the subsequent table discussions.

Quinn was the first to speak and he did so with genuine feeling though the detail of how his plan would work in reality was left to an online publication which in itself answered some but not all of the questions that surround the motivation behind all those involved.

It is though focused on creating a stronger League of Ireland as a central point for where reform of the game should come from.

That was also a part of Stephen McGuinness’ contribution from the PFAI and of Stephanie Roche, one of the few women involved in the main body of the room.


We heard that there were 400,000 people involved on a regular and committed basis within Irish football. The sense we got from our table though was that it was at the grassroots and the community level that their main focus was and that the top of the pyramid is once again getting too much attention in the current discussions.

Perhaps it is easier to focus on a manageable unit of 20 clubs rather than 2,000 that make up the bulk of the game but in the same way, as the tallest tree is only as strong as its roots, it has to be hoped that this message will come back and be heard.

The second discussion focused more on the Governance in technical terms and it was a smart move to include Sarah Keane who has first-hand experience of reform of Swim Ireland and more recently, the Irish Olympic Federation.

A blend of representation from within the sport and the necessary skill set to run an effective board looked much simpler when laid out with a working example. It will be a key part of the long term reform to get this right and to wrestle back control from those who have held it in recent years with looser control and considerably less diversity.

An important thing to bear in mind as well, amid the clamour for all those currently in place to be sent into the wilderness, is that Sarah Keane herself was on the Executive Committee at the time the balloon went up for the old Olympic Council of Ireland.

The success of the reforms she drove may well have been possible without her but the reality is that she was the single pillar of strength around whom others could gather.

Back to the construct of the Roman Forum again we go.


A final point on the morning was the absence of any representation from UEFA or FIFA, at least in highly visible form.

They will have been watching with interest though. Economist Colm McCarthy made his name as a contrarian during the economic crisis and it was presumably on that basis he was part of the discussion here. A lengthy ramble about the different strengths of Rugby and GAA was hauled back to the point by Maloney but McCarthy’s words that the Irish Government should seek to exert greater control in Europe over the actions of UEFA and FIFA will also have been heard.

He dismissed claims that regulations were there to prevent Government interference and that instead of ‘preventing infection of the supernational governing bodies that they were actually there to prevent disinfection.

We have stated on a regular basis that care needs to be taken to avoid the accusation that the Governance of the sport has become a political rather than a sporting football. We have seen in Russia and elsewhere that political influence on sport can be as malign as it can be beneficial.

There is no doubt that the Government intentions of bringing football together to build its own future is being done for the right reasons. It’s just how that is seen from outside the Mansion Room, and outside the national borders that is still a cause of some concern.

The report of the Governance Review Group will be published on June 21st, a Friday. Until then the work of the FAI continues, the world keeps turning, and breaths are still being held about what happens next.

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