The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) is struggling to meet the government’s requirement to have 40% of its board made up of women by next year, putting continued state financial support at risk.
At its annual general meeting (AGM) yesterday in the Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House, the re-election of five male directors was adjourned so that the association could ‘increase the pool of female candidates’.
Two former trustees, John Earley and Dave Moran, criticized late notice of the proposal to postpone the election of five trustees. FAI Independent Chairman Roy Barrett apologized for the notice, which was only sent at 5.30pm on Friday. He said the association “needs more time to get it right.”
Mr Earley, who represents the Schoolboys Football Association of Ireland, said he could not believe there had been no approach from the various football chambers regarding the appointment of new directors. “I close my case. Good governance?” he said.
Mr Barrett insisted that it was good governance to postpone the re-election of five directors.
Robert Watt, the general secretary of the Department of Health, Packie Bonner, the former international player, and Richard Shakespeare, a senior Dublin City Council official, were among the five trustees whose ratification as board members administration was delayed. Only two of the current 12 FAI board members are women.
It must have at least five female directors by the end of 2023, in line with requirements set by Sport Ireland and a 2020 memorandum of understanding with the government which secured a financial bailout from the FAI when it faced insolvency.
The five directors up for re-election will remain on the FAI Board pending the completion of the ratification process within the next three months.
Alex O’Connell, FAI’s chief financial officer, told delegates that while the FAI had a surplus of €6.7 million last year, this was largely due to the receipt of a payment from Covid support of 19 million euros from the government.
Mr O’Connell said the FAI in previous years relied on future revenue to meet its day-to-day debts. In 2019, the FAI’s deferred revenue reached €28.3 million, meaning the association had deferred two-thirds of its future revenue from 2020 to be spent in 2019.
He said it wouldn’t be a problem if an organization had a large cash balance, but the FAI was relying on an overdraft at the time. ISP deferred revenue for last year has been reduced to €17.2 million and the plan is to reduce it below €10 million by 2025 by ceasing the practice of levying revenue on future years to pay current expenses.
Mr O’Connell said he was ‘extremely aware of the significant liability owed by the FAI’, which stands at 63.5 million euros. He said the Bank of Ireland, which holds the FAI stadium loan, had agreed a moratorium on payments in 2020. The FAI will repay this loan over 20 years until 2040 with payments of €712,500 every six months.
Jonathan Hill, FAI’s chief executive since November 2020, said an audit of FAI’s income stemming from the John Delaney era was underway, but FAI is already making payments over a five-year schedule with a total cost estimated at 3.5 million euros.
The AGM was also addressed by delegates from Fifa and UEFA. When Robbie Keane’s name was mentioned in passing by UEFA delegate Jozef Kliment, FAI officials raised their eyebrows. Keane, who was on a coaching salary of €250,000, will end his contract with the FAI this month. He hasn’t worked since 2020 when Mick McCarthy was replaced as men’s team manager by Stephen Kenny, who decided he didn’t want Keane on his coaching staff.
Heidi Beha of the Fifa Member Associations Division congratulated the FAI on its 100th anniversary and said she was happy the association was emerging from its crisis.
Some 18 members of the FAI General Assembly had to terminate their assembly membership due to a government requirement that no member serve for more than 10 years. Among these was Paraic Treanor, director for more than 15 years under Delaney. He gave a farewell speech from the hall.
Among the six football personalities who received Honorary Life Members of the FAI was John O’Regan, who served as Honorary Secretary of the Kerry District League for 46 years and was one of Delaney’s staunchest supporters.
Managing director Hill told delegates he hoped to hear from a new sponsor for the Irish men’s team “in the coming weeks”. He later said the talks were “reasonably advanced” but it was “a tough sell” due to issues such as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine limiting the finances of potential sponsors.
Asked about his decision to stay and live in England, Mr Hill insisted he was ‘entirely based’ in Dublin for work and was highly visible in Abbotstown. Mr Barrett said the question of Mr Hill’s location was ‘irrelevant’.
Mr Hill also revealed that 137 amateur clubs faced penalties for failing to engage in the FAI’s child protection training program as required by law. He said the FAI board would meet on Tuesday to discuss the matter, but “we cannot allow them to continue to participate as football clubs, especially when working with children”.
FAI chairman Gerry McAnaney has suggested that clubs that do not provide training in child protection, which aims to prevent child abuse and other welfare issues, would become ineligible for grants. of the FAI.
Mr Barrett said the FAI was now beginning the “serious” task of ensuring the FAI had a gender balance on its board. Although it is a government requirement, he believes it would be fundamentally good for football to have more female representation at senior levels.
“There are some really talented people out there,” Barrett said. “We need to encourage them to come forward.