Body of professional footballers condemns FAI after committee appearance

A body representing professional footballers has condemned the board of Ireland’s leading football organisation as rotten.

The Football Association Ireland (FAI) has been in the eye of a political storm since it emerged that ex-CEO John Delaney provided it with a bridging loan in April 2017 to prevent it exceeding a 1.5 million euro bank overdraft.

At an Oireachtas committee hearing which took place over seven hours on Wednesday, FAI board members appeared unable to answer basic questions, including how many bank accounts the organisation has, and often refused to answer citing legal or commercial limitations.

Mr Delaney has insisted he acted in the best interests of the game when he loaned the money to remedy a short-term cash flow problem.

The organisation has hired financial firm Grant Thornton to investigate how the loan came about, despite three members of the board knowing about the loan when it was paid.

The controversial payment, which has raised questions about the FAI’s finance and governance arrangements, was not flagged to Sport Ireland, the state body that oversees the public funding of sporting organisations in the country.

Sport Ireland has temporarily withheld further funding to the FAI pending an auditors’ probe.

A statement released on Thursday, from the Management Committee of the Professional Footballers Association Ireland, called for a complete overhaul of the organisation after reviewing the board’s behaviour in the Irish parliament.

“While many of the public were shocked by the inability of those attendees from the FAI and in particular the blatant stonewalling by the former CEO, unfortunately for us as players and our representatives, this is the standard response that we have become accustomed to,” the statement read.

“We were however very interested to hear the admission from the board members that were in attendance yesterday, that they were not always made aware of relevant information that require their attention and approval.

“We will now be seeking confirmation from each member of the board individually to validate if they did indeed approve and have full knowledge of the highly publicised issues the PFA Ireland have faced with the FAI to date.

“For years, League of Ireland football has been the poor relation, lagging behind grass roots and the men’s international team in terms of importance.

“The 14-year reign of John Delaney has seen priority given to all other areas.

“It is clear that the finances of the FAI need to be forensically examined and the governance of the association completely overhauled. To continue the analogy, something is rotten in the state of the FAI.”

The statement was signed by the PFA Ireland Management Committee members, Gary Rogers, Aine O’Gorman, Paul Skinner, Dean Clarke, Oscar Brennan, Brendan Clarke, Paul O’Conor, Luke Byrne and Shane Supple.

“Yesterday’s performance by the FAI was a new low point for Irish football,” PFA Ireland chairman Mr Rogers added.

“There needs to be root and branch reform within the FAI. ”

The group say they have written to the FAI board seeking a meeting to start negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement for their players, which they say is long overdue, and will ultimately benefit the players.

“We need to start again, from now at year zero, and make professional football in this country and us, the players, the centrepiece of the rebirth,” he said.

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