For the last couple of years, FAI CEO John Delaney has repeatedly come under increased scrutiny for his own personal actions and the way in which the organisation operates. Last week, in a surprising announcement just before the Republic of Ireland’s opening Euro 2020 qualifier against Gibraltar, the first reports began to filter through of Delaney’s proposed resignation from the role of CEO, sparking widespread hope that the organisation would finally be able to move forward into a ‘new era’ of sorts. However, as many of us already assumed, Delaney was announced into a newly created ‘role’ of Executive Vice President.
The reaction to the change was swift and emphatic. We don’t want Delaney in this organisation anymore. Only 6% of people believe that John Delaney should continue to be involved with the FAI, a new poll has found. A Claire Byrne Live Research poll of 1,000 adults last week has found that 70% of people believe Delaney should no longer be involved with the FAI.
One of the biggest reasons people want Delaney out is the continued scandals he has been implicated in. More than a week ago, Mr Delaney came under pressure when it was revealed that he had provided a €100,000 cheque in April 2017 to the FAI, which did not appear in its audited accounts. Mr Delaney, a former vice president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, said he had loaned his employers the money “to aid a very short-term cash flow issue.” The FAI and Delaney had unsuccessfully sought a last-minute High Court injunction to prevent the Sunday Times from revealing the story. As the association receives a lot of taxpayers’ money, politicians, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, say the FAI needs to answer questions. While it is not uncommon for a chief executive to get loans from a company, it is much rarer for them to lend money to their companies – or in this case Mr Delaney’s association.
The judge in the ruling, Mr Anthony Barr, ruled that the payment was a matter of public interest. This then prompted additional investigations by Irish newspapers in to other aspects of Mr Delaney’s financial arrangements with the FAI. The public demanded to know just how bad the FAI’s finances were. How did such a loan ever come about? Why was there such an intense attempt by those involved to prevent the story from coming to light? And who would pay the legal costs, estimated at €50,000, for the unsuccessful injunction? Speaking on the matter, former FAI CEO Fran Rooney said: “The fact that it wasn’t disclosed, it wasn’t in the accounts … there was a whole area of secrecy around it. The very interesting thing that we should all remember here is that the Football Association of Ireland is a publicly funded body so this is taxpayers’ money. It should be disclosed immediately through Sports Ireland.”
Mr Rooney said the whole controversy “causes considerable disquiet to the public, particularly those who are forking out hard-earned money to go to games, people who are looking to build the game at grass-roots level. These are very serious issues to be addressed. It goes beyond John Delaney. There are questions for the entire board here to answer.”
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Rooney, who was head of the FAI for 18 months in 2003-2004, said there were questions for the entire board to answer. He said that governance was addressed in 2002 in a report called Genesis Report, which stated there would be regular ‘changing of the guard’. However, he said that what has happened is that almost the same ten people have been running the organisation. In basic terms, the retirement dates have been adjusted so that certain individuals were able to stay longer than their original terms of office. Mr Rooney added that instead of Mr Delaney should be moving aside within the organisation, he should be moving out of the way altogether.
So, what should happen next? The argument goes that the damage has been done by a group of people acting in their own self-interest, and how this can be corrected. A lot of the arguments point towards intervention by the government and the forced withdrawal of the current board. While the FAI is an autonomous body, it is still possible for the government to intervene and insist on some radical change. The Taoiseach pointed out on Sunday that while the association was not a public body, it received public funds. Fintan Drury of the Irish Times wrote: “Those funds should be paused until the board is changed even if in the short-term that could undermine football initiatives”.