The role of a national governing body in sport is to hold in trust the energy and the hopes that its players invest in that sport, to manage that energy and channel it into viable structures and competitions and to build the future into a better place than was the past.
The FAI revealed its blueprint on how it was going to achieve that at an event on Friday to which Sport for Business was one of very few media sources to be invited.
Reading coverage of the plan in the weekend newspapers, it appears that the main story was the media who weren’t invited, but that is a reflection of the sometimes inward looking nature of our profession.
The New York Times and Andrew Jennings whose persistence eventually uncovered FIFA’s abuses of power never did so from the comfort of a media briefing but whether the media is there or not is less important than the content of the new strategic plan and how it will be implemented.
The beginning is always a good place to start analysing a plan for the future and the FAI’s vision statement is the overall standard by which this plan will ultimately be measured.
It is “to enable every Irish person to participate in our game, to allow all involved in the game to reach their full potential, whatever level that might be, and to inspire the nation through international success at the highest level.”
There is an interesting population analysis to put things in context which shows that there were 33% or 20,000 fewer people born in Ireland that are now 20 years old than those who are now 30. That was a measure of emigration and recession but the numbers are now bouncing back and the plan sets out how this new growth is to be accommodated.
There are nine pillars on which the plan rests. That is four more than was in the last plan and arguable more than can comfortable be managed and developed but the counter argument is that in so doing there is a greater level of specific detail, and responsibility that can be assigned.
Each of the pillars has between five and seven specific strategic goals and most importantly a range of outcomes with hard numbers and solid timelines.
In player development that means a target of 80 FAI approved club academies to be in place by 2020, clear age specific playing formats for children to develop skills as opposed to win at all costs and a 30% increase in the number of UEFA qualified coaches.
In organisational terms the Association has begun the implementation of a national club, player and competition registration system, based on that in use in Germany and is also looking at how the data that this system will produce can be used to bind stronger ties between the sport and its closest fans.
The hosting of four matches in the Euro 2020 Championships will be the biggest international sporting event this country has hosted.
The victory to host those games was a model in teamwork between the FAI, Dublin City Council and state agencies. Ireland’s scoring performance in terms of the elements of the bid was at the very top, showing what can be done and serving as a beacon for others who will follow suit.
That will take up much of the FAI energy in the next four years but it will not be simply as an end in itself. The plan outlines the objective to bid to host at least two other international age grade tournaments as well.
The redevelopment of Dalymount Park and the Brandywell Stadium is listed as an objective under the facilities pillar as well as the continued development of regional centres of excellence for Munster, Greater Leinster and Connacht / Ulster.
Club Development and the Women’s Game have their own specific objectives which will strengthen the game at each level.
There has never been a time of such potential for the game here. We stand on the edge of a major finals in France where Irish fans have sought 275,000 tickets across the first three games. We go into it off the back of an electrifying win over Germany at a packed Aviva Stadium.
The nation is ready to march to the tune of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane’s side and fulfil again John Delaney’s mantra that there is no team that comes close to a winning Republic of Ireland team in uniting the country in support.
The intention of the plan is to create a lasting legacy for the sport here, one that is not based on a single shot beyond the outstretched arm of a German goalkeeper, but on the structures that will ensure there will be an ever louder crescendo of a clatter of studs as men and women, boys and girls take up and stay with what remains far and away the world’s number one sport.
It’s a bold ambition, but one which can be delivered in steps that can be measured and held to account by those in the sport as well as those in the media, regardless of whether they feel ‘loved’ enough to be handed full access on a plate or have to dig a little deeper into the resources of their ingenuity.