Euro Football

Suspension of FAI would rule us out as hosts of Euro 2020 hosts

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FAI officials are set to meet with the governing bodies in Dublin this week after both organisations reminded it of its responsibilities to “manage its affairs independently”.

Last night FAI president Donal Conway said the association is taking a letter on the matter – signed by the general secretaries of Fifa and Uefa, Fatma Samoura and Theodore Theodoridis – “very seriously”, considering the sanctions that would be imposed on the association.

The FAI was told a failure to manage its affairs independently of political inference could lead to its membership of both international organisations being suspended.

This comes after Sports Minister Shane Ross wrote to Mr Conway last week, asking him to withdraw his nomination for a second term.

Writing in the Sunday Independent today, Minister Ross echoed those calls.

“The Government, as an important source of funds for the FAI, is obliged to pinpoint publicly the most obvious flaws in a body that we want to fund, but cannot support, as long as it continues to breach acceptable corporate governance norms.”

Speaking after the FAI’s EGM in Dunboyne, Co Meath, last night, Mr Conway said he will seek another term as president – against Mr Ross’s wishes.

He said he was open to dialogue with Sport Ireland, Uefa and Fifa – but insisted that the FAI should be “autonomous” and free from political interference.

“We have met Uefa and Fifa three [or] four times. They have visited Dublin. In all of the exchanges we have had, they have made clear there are lines beyond which a third party should not cross,” Mr Conway said.

“They made that clear to Sport Ireland when they met them, both Uefa and Fifa. There were constructive meetings between Uefa, Fifa and Sport Ireland. They have asked to be kept appraised.”

FAI insiders criticised the minister in the margins of yesterday’s EGM, saying his letter was not helpful.

Delegates voted to change the association’s rules at the meeting in support of 78 recommendations by a Sport Ireland/FAI Governance Review Group aimed at improving corporate governance at the organisation. These recommendations will now be brought to the association’s AGM next Saturday.

Both Fifa and Uefa are maintaining a watching brief over the association in light of recent controversies and issues surrounding corporate governance, including former chief executive John Delaney’s €100,000 loan to the FAI.

Mr Conway declined to answer questions about Mr Delaney after yesterday’s meeting, citing legal advice.

He was asked if Mr Delaney had put the association on notice that he was seeking to take legal action against his employers. Mr Conway was also asked if the association had sought its own legal advice about a potential severance payment for the former chief executive.

“While I have got advice, the advice I have got is that I can’t discuss John Delaney,” Mr Conway said. “I am not trying to be difficult, but that is the legal advice.”

Uefa wrote to FAI headquarters in Abbotstown last Friday, reminding it of strict rules that restrict governments playing a direct role in the affairs of member associations. Ukraine was issued with a similar warning in 2011 as it grappled with government interference in the country’s football federation’s affairs ahead of co-hosting Euro 2012.

Fifa president Gianni Infantino, who was Uefa’s general secretary at the time, followed this warning by reminding Ukraine “it would not be tenable” for the country to host the European Championships if it was suspended.

A suspension of the FAI would also prevent Irish sides from competing in international competitions.

An FAI source told the Sunday Independent that Mr Ross’s letter had not helped the association. “It was not helpful in any regard,” the source said.

“If you have two bodies [maintaining a watching brief] with rules in place and you have a government minister writing a letter basically saying an association can’t nominate a particular person for a role – and it is not that person’s fault that he is the only one nominated – you could deem it to be interference.”

A Uefa spokesman told the Sunday Independent that the FAI must provide “a democratic procedure guaranteeing that their executive body is freely elected”.

All other FAI appointments must also be made “in a completely independent way”, he added. Anybody not elected or appointed in a way that complies with its rules – even on an interim basis – would not be recognised by Uefa.

Mr Conway said: “We are taking the letter seriously, but we still feel that there is an opportunity for both sides to engage with each other. We will be talking to Uefa and Fifa this week.”

Sunday Independent

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