- 15 Apr 19
It has been a seismic few weeks in Irish football (and we’re not talking about the exploits of Mick McCarthy’s boys in green!). Here, Hot Press outlines the extraordinary series of events that resulted in the year's biggest sporting controversy – and the almost inevitable departure from the association of the former CEO of the FAI, John Delaney.
Pressure was mounting today, which will almost certainly bring an end to John Delaney’s involvement in the FAI. Until very recently, the former Chief Executive was regarded as one of the most powerful figures in Irish sport. He was also very popular with at least sections of the grass roots, having successfully cultivated relationships with those involved in junior football all over Ireland.
With that power base successfully established, in the world of sport in Ireland he was as close as you'd get to a superstar – and as such he was both widely admired, often envied and sometimes loathed. But for most of his career he had flown the right side of popular opinion.
Now, however, that tide has turned, in a way that must be extremely difficult for John Delaney to grapple with. The road to the downfall of one of Ireland's best known sports officials may have been paved with good intentions – but, however you spin the facts, they do not look good to objective observers. And so it seems that he will likely have to bow to the inevitable – though there is little doubt too, that lawyers will be involved.
John Delaney was Ireland’s Mr. Football. He had a huge salary to match. He was well got in UEFA, and FIFA, and had done what most people would acknowledge was very good work in bringing tournament football to Ireland – including this year's U17 European Championships, as well as three games in next year's Europe-wide senior tournament. In that context, the initial decision to change the nature of his role with the FAI to Executive Vice President, in charge of negotiations with international bodies, actually made some sense. But given the extent of the controversies that have been mounting, that seems to no longer be a long-term runner.
How it will all end, and with what impact on the individuals involved, remains to be seen. But what has emerged so far does not make lovely bed-time reading...
– The controversy began with the €100,000 loan, made by John Delaney to the FAI, which was the focus of the original story in the Sunday Times – and details of which John Delaney tried to prevent being published. The loan was repaid to Delaney a few months later. However, it now appears that the Board of the FAI were not made properly aware of what was a highly unusual financial transaction. And it is certainly the case that Sports Ireland, who provide a relatively small but still important level of funding to the FAI, were not informed – as they should have been under the terms of their grant support.
– A further question has also arisen in relation to cash flow issues. Reports suggest that the money which Dundalk earned as a result of their performances in Europe in 2017 were paid first to the FAI – and then dispensed to Dundalk, by agreement, on a phased basis. However, it is not clear how it happened that when Dundalk requested the final payment, the funds were not in the relevant FAI account. It was apparently when Dundalk pushed for the funds – a figure in the region of €300k – as a matter of urgency that the loan was made by John Delaney.
– Another serious question has arisen in relation to the fact that, in addition to his salary of €360k, the FAI were also paying the rent on a dwelling occupied by John Delaney. This amounted to an additional €36k a year. The precise arrangements in relation to this so far remain unclear, nor is there any certainty as to who else within the FAI might have been aware of it – though clearly it would be strange if the organisation’s Financial Controller were unaware of it at the time the payments started. Either way, it is certainly an extraordinary arrangement.
– The combination of this, seemingly additional, payment, and the €100k loan, put a renewed emphasis on the already extravagant nature of John Delaney’s salary. How come the Chief Executive had more cash at his disposal than the organisation which he runs – and that has a turn-over of €50 million or so? And who was it that decided that he should be paid that whopping sum, in the first place, and why? It is more than the winning side in the Airtricity League gets for a season’s training, travelling and battling successfully. The optics were, and are, not good.
– Against this increasingly thorny background, it was almost inevitable that Sports Ireland would withdraw their funding support – in the region of €2.7 million – from the FAI, pending a complete review of corporate governance within the organisation. That process is underway, and the pressure has been mounting on the FAI to provide chapter and verse on all of the issues that had come into the public domain. However, that process is complicated by the fact that fresh issues continue to arise...
– Other more trivial issues have been revealed by the Sunday Times, which sadly don’t reflect particularly well on the former Chief Executive. The cause was good, but cynics will have a field day nonetheless at the revelation that the FAI paid the model and singer Nadia Forde to get involved in a 'Celebrity Come Dancing' night in aid of the John Giles Foundation (which assists in the coaching of players at schoolboy level), and that she was then selected as John Delaney’s partner for the event. This connection may help to explain the fact that Nadia Forde was given the opportunity to sing the national anthem at the Ireland .v. Latvia international game back in 2013. The Celebrity Come Dancing fundraiser was apparently run by Emma English, who subsequently became John Delaney’s girlfriend.
– Additional controversies have arisen in relation to the payment of expenses. Yesterday, the Sunday Times revealed that Delaney had spent €40,000 on the FAI credit card. Much of this may be entirely routine, but amongst other notable details alleged in relation to this expenditure was that the FAI shelled out €8k for the CEO's stay at the NYC Ritz Carlton, where guests can select their pillow from a menu.
– With all of that bubbling, there has been outrage among politicians and the media about the FAI's performance before the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport last week. John Delaney was clearly the man with all the answers, but he chose to make only a carefully worded statement to the Dáil committee, revealing little or nothing, and finished by saying that he was precluded from saying anything else on legal advice. For the rest of the day, hapless members of the FAI gave evidence as best they could – but it was a hugely frustrating situation for the committee, with John Delaney sitting there and saying nothing, as his colleagues floundered. It was not the kind of image that any sporting organisation would want to convey to politicians, or to the watching general public.
– The Minister for Sport, Shane Ross, has threatened that capital grants of up to €15 million might also be withheld, if the FAI fail to take whatever action might be necessary to remedy the deficiencies in their corporate governance that have come to light. The FAI has responded by promising a completely new structure, including a Corporate Governance committee with independent members. But how many of the old guard are hoping to remain in place might yet become a major bone of contention. There is little doubt that the Minister for Sports, and Sports Ireland, hold the whip hand. In the context, a complete change-over in the board and the voluntary officers may well be on the cards.
That’s how it stands, coming up to lunch-time on Monday. There have been rumours that John Delaney may stay on as Vice President for a cross-over period, and there may be merit in that. Vindictiveness should not be a part of the resolution here, and the reality is that, in normal circumstances, a hand-over period, during which any new CEO might be introduced to the most influential figures in FIFA and UEFA might be considered a very good idea.
These are not normal circumstances. But neither would an abrupt change in our international representation necessarily be in the best interests of Irish football. And that is what is most important here, in the short, medium and long run. No one should lose sight of that.