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FAI hits out as ‘confidential’ €18m government bailout bid made public

Ireland line up ahead of the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier against Denmark (by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has hit out at the Irish government, stating that Minister for Sport Shane Ross’ disclosure that the troubled body had requested an €18m ($20m) bailout has not helped its reform process.

Ross made the comments at a Sports Committee meeting of the Irish parliament, Oireachtas, stating the request was “shocking”, adding that it was made “absolutely clear” that the FAI would not get a bailout from the government.

In a statement following Ross’ comments, the FAI said its board had met with the government on Monday night, stating that “confidential talks” took place regarding the financial future of the Association and efforts to safeguard jobs at the FAI and the future of football in Ireland.

The FAI said that “confidentiality was broken” in the Oireachtas and as a consequence, this has made the efforts to secure its financial future “all the more difficult”.

FAI executive lead Paul Cooke added: “A number of points were raised today (Wednesday), some of which we addressed in confidence at Monday night’s meeting in Leinster House when we presented Government with a credible business plan produced in partnership with Grant Thornton.

“We outlined the current serious financial situation at the Association and how government involvement could help secure a refinancing package. The Board, management and staff at the FAI are working hard to avoid an insolvency process.”

The FAI has multiple issues to deal with. Earlier this month, one of its major sponsors, energy brand SSE Airtricity, voiced concerns over recent issues facing the organisation. This came after main sponsor, mobile network Three, said it will not renew its agreement with the association when it expires in July 2020. Three took up the role of main sponsor in 2010 and signed a five-year, €8.9m renewal in 2015.

Earlier this month, the FAI’s annual accounts showed current net liabilities of €55m, which Minister Brendan Griffin yesterday (Wednesday) said actually amount to €62m, when funding and loans owed to Uefa are taken into account. The Irish government is due to hold a planned meeting with European football’s governing body next month, with the domestic League of Ireland believed to be under severe threat due to the FAI’s troubles.

Expanding on the FAI position, Cooke said: “We made it clear to Government on Monday that the Board is frustrated at the delay in the appointment of an independent chairperson and three independent directors. Like the Government, the Association wants to see these appointments made immediately.

“The process to appoint independent directors commenced at the earliest possible date following the adoption of the Governance Review Group report but we still don’t know the identity of the nominees for these positions.

“Until the refinancing package is signed-off, it is unlikely that independent directors will be available for appointment. What was said in the Oireachtas today will not help the recruitment process for those independent directors.”

Irish public broadcaster RTE reported that meetings are taking place today between the Department of Sport and Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) over the future of Aviva Stadium. The Dublin venue is currently co-owned by the IRFU and FAI, with the €29m debt carried by the FAI on the stadium said to be on the agenda at today’s meeting.