KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —– Inexplicably the UK sports media, which spun itself into paroxysms of headlining horror over FIFA corruption, has largely ignored football management chaos just across the Irish Sea.
This is especially baffling: events within the collapsing FAI can inflict major damage on hopes of the 2030 World Cup being awarded to a cohosting bid by the four so-called ‘home’ nations and the Republic of Ireland.
The quagmire bogging down John Delaney and his colleagues is being viewed with particular interest in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay who have launched their own joint bid campaign.
They may not understand the issues surrounding the Football Association of Ireland, its former ceo turned executive vice-president, and Sport Ireland. But that matters not. They do know all about the world federation’s jaundiced view of government interference.
If a national association cannot resolve its own crises then FIFA and the relevant region – in this case Europe’s UEFA – can appoint a normalisation committee to take over the running of that country’s football.
The sight of a World Cup bidder which cannot organise even itself would be grist to the promotional mill of rivals. Not officially, of course. But in the corridors of power, where the only influential conversations are shared, the message would be driven home.
This may appear perverse, given not only the criminality which the United States authorities uncovered in football management in the Americas but Argentina’s own recent submission to the normalisation embarrassment.
But South American confederation CONMEBOL insists it has cleaned up its act to such a degree that president Agustin Dominguez has become one of the most subservient and supportive acolytes of FIFA supremo Gianni Infantino.
In any case it is not as if Irish sports leaders have an untainted record. Pat Hickey was the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland arrested in his hotel on ticketing charges by local police during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games; Pat McQuaid ran cycling’s UCI during eight of the sport’s doping-tarnished years.
Both men became members of the International Olympic Committee. Hickey, who once suggested Delaney would be a worthy successor, denied all wrongdoing; McQuaid insisted that anti-doping measures were among the priorities of his reign between 2005 and 2013.
Separately FAI ceo Delaney was climbing up the power ladder of not only domestic but international football. He was ceo from 2005 until this spring on an annual €360,000.
This was remarkable by domestic standards even before adding €160,000-a-year from UEFA after being elected to the executive committee in April last year plus €300-a-when on European federation duty.
The FAI receives €2.7m from Sport Ireland which is dependent on the body’s demonstrable managerial and financial credibility. This was cast into question when it emerged that Delaney had provided the FAI with a €100,000 bridging loan out of his own pocket in April 2017.
Delaney fought in vain through the courts until mid-March to prevent The Sunday Times from publishing details of the arrangement.
Earlier this month newspaper reported that Delaney had spent almost €40,000 on his work credit card in the space of six months shortly before he bailed out the FAI. It said the charges included duty-free purchases, meals in Delaney’s local pub and cash withdrawals of more than €6,000. Delaney has denied all wrongdoing.
Publication of the loan was the first stone in a financial and political landslide being monitored as high up the political ladder as Taoiseach (prme minister) Leo Varadkar.
Earlier this week Brendon Menton, general secretary of the FAI between 2000 and 2002, set out the risks just around the Swiss corner in a first-person column in the Irish Times.
“FIFA rules stipulate that its members must be independent and free from government interference.
“Any action by the Government to force change would lead to an immediate suspension of Ireland from all international football activities, including its under-age teams and its clubs. It would lead to a suspension of funding and that would have a disastrous impact. This must be avoided at all costs.
“There has been a systematic undermining of policies and procedures in the FAI in recent years. The FAI board has allowed itself to be emasculated. The FAI’s governance and financial controls are a shadow of those that existed previously.
“The current FAI rules, adopted in February, are totally inadequate. The role of the chief executive is undefined . . . The chief executive became a voting member of the board, which is unique in football associations and against FIFA guidelines.
“The size of the board was reduced, which allowed a small Delaney-led cabal to dominate.”
Menton said he feared for the financial stability of the FAI and considered Sport Ireland’s hope for reform by July as “totally unrealistic.”
He concluded: “Change will have to be forced from outside” which meant the threat of, at worst, international suspension or, at the least, the imposition of a FIFA normalisation committee.
Maybe then events across the Irish Sea will make an impact in even a Brexit-beleaguered UK. This is, after all, yet another of those cross-border conundrums.