FAI calls for "round-table" talks at reconvened AGM
“If anyone asked a question, it was like Oliver looking for food”
The reconvened AGM of the FAI has taken place in a strange and mixed atmosphere. The agenda was simple: to present to members the adjusted account of 2016 and 2017, while also providing a platform to members to question the board. The latter took up the vast majority of the AGM which lasted just short of 2 hours.
Let’s start with the positives, which have been thin on the ground since news of the FAI’s financial problems rocked the association in March and April of this year. Ursula Scully’s appointment to the board was confirmed, as expected. Outgoing FAI chief Donal Conway also informed members that there is a “strong prospect” that all four independent directors will be brought to members after a Nominations Committee in early January There was also the assertion from Alex O’Connell, Finance Director of the FAI, that if the association’s financial roadmap was followed, including the required €18 million cash injection so far refused by the government, they would expect to be “cash positive” by 2022/23.
There is an important caveat to that figure; the figure of €18 million, requested by the FAI of the government a couple of weeks ago, is vital to this roadmap. Conway called for a “round-table” meeting involving all major stakeholders in the issue (the FAI, the Department of Sport, the bank, Sport Ireland and UEFA) rather than the bi-lateral meeting mooted by Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross which is due to be held in early January.
It was made clear by the board that if that money is not forthcoming, the effects would be “very serious”, and if outstanding FAI debts were immediately called in there would be an “equal possibility of liquidation as there is examinership”. The ramifications of that were, again, starkly laid out by the board; “it calls into question our membership of FIFA, UEFA (and) international competition”.
Most of what was to be said, and learned, came from the members in the open forum. Conway set out the terms of what could be dealt with early on, warning members of the tone of questions and also of making any potentially defamatory statements. They were also informed that certain questions would not be answered if they would affect any of the ongoing investigations into the association.
One member lamented the “death by a thousand cuts” that a number of stakeholders have been subject to, learning of crisis after crisis from media reports rather than from the FAI themselves. The question was, simply, asked; is there anything else to come out? Both Donal Conway and Paul Cooke answered the question, saying that there has been “especially intense scrutiny” on the FAI, noting the forensic audit, Deloitte audit, Grant Thornton coming on board, the Mazars report and the KOSI investigation among others. However, Conway said “I am not going to say there is nothing else going to appear”, while Cooke admitted “there could be other issues”.
A statement from the floor around the Shane Ross tweet, saying that "many members of the cabinet know the value of the FAI". He later says "we are down on our knees and there are certain people who are taking pleasure in kicking us into the ground".
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) December 29, 2019
There were a number of questions raised about the potential sale of the Aviva Stadium to alleviate the ongoing financial problems within the organization, and some amount of clarity offered on it. Simply, there is “no refusal from the board to consider the disposal of the asset”, while there was a later addendum to that saying that the sale would have to be €50 million in order for it to be useful to the FAI.
The much-queried Sports Direct sponsorship was also clarified. In 2016, €6.5 million was given to the FAI in advance sponsorship, which was later pulled after a clause was activated in the contract. The FAI is now paying that money back in monthly instalments. When asked who in the FAI had negotiated the deal, Alex O’Connell said he was unable to answer that question as it was “under ongoing investigation”. When further pushed for clarification as to whether such a clause that allows for money to be recouped was standard practice, O’Connell confirmed it was, but perhaps not to the extent of the full amount.
The biggest unanswered questions came in relation to the role of auditors Deloitte, who it was confirmed would not be seeking reappointment as statutory auditors of the FAI, with a tender to be put out in January. Many of the questions put to them by members went unanswered, with a series of queries batted down by prepared statements, the most damning of which included the line “in our (Deloitte’s) opinion, we were misled”. In an intense grilling by Brendan Dillon, who resigned from the board in 2004, Dillon placed on record that he had sent a lengthy letter to Deloitte 15 years ago “detailing concerns around FAI finances, including payment to directors, (financial) projections versus reality and monitoring of expenses”. He said he expected no comment on that matter from Deloitte, and promptly received none.
The most damning comment relating to the governance of the FAI, which it must be said was among a distinct minority in much of the discourse, came from a member of the council who said “what has not been talked of is humility”, and called for the FAI to issue an apology for their shortcomings, which may aid relations with Shane Ross and his department. The member said that having joined the FAI Council three years ago, he was shocked at the 60 people sitting in the room in that “if anyone asked a question, it was like Oliver looking for food”. When the issue of the apology was raised again at the end of the AGM, Donal Conway informed the room that a statement would be issued this evening and would take these points on board.
A statement from the floor (slightly paraphrased): I give my full backing to this new board, but a lot of members in this room who "cosied up to the former CEO", who released statements in support of him, they need to go. We need to get people in who actually care about the game.
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) December 29, 2019
There is also a meeting of the FAI Council and EGM this afternoon, both of which are closed to the public and the media, but a press conference is scheduled for this evening upon their conclusion. More to follow…