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John Delaney told Ross of 'valuable project' losing funding and threats to underage football over Brexit

While still CEO, Delaney asked the government to bear this in mind during its negotiations with the EU and UK.

John Delaney (left) and Shane Ross (right)
John Delaney (left) and Shane Ross (right)
Image: Rollingnews.ie

WHILE STILL CEO of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) in February, John Delaney wrote to Minister for Sport Shane Ross to ask the government take into account the effect Brexit would have on Irish football in its negotiations with the EU and UK.

Delaney outlined the effect that Brexit was already having on Irish football, and said a “valuable project” under way as a joint initiative with Wales has had its funding withdrawn, putting four jobs at risk unless alternative funding is found. 

Furthermore, the ongoing nature of Brexit has meant uncertainty for some young players going to play in England and the Irish clubs that receive compensation when their player is signed by an English team.

In response to the letter of 13 February, Shane Ross’s private secretary wrote back to Delaney and said the contents of the letter would be brought to the minister’s attention as soon as possible. These documents were released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act. 

Turbulent few weeks

Brexit was certainly a concern for the FAI in February, but recent events have changed the landscape of Irish football significantly since then.

Delaney stepped down as CEO of the association in March, and moved into the role of Executive Vice President. It came after a review of the internal structures of the FAI by Jonathan Hall Associations.

But this also took place within a week of the Sunday Times publishing details of a €100,000 cheque given to the FAI in April 2017 by John Delaney. The FAI issued a statement to say that it was a bridging loan to address a short-term cash flow issue.

Controversy has embroiled the organisation since and the FAI has commissioned Mazars to conduct an investigation into its governance and related affairs. Unsatisfied with the answers provided by the FAI, Sport Ireland announced its decision to withhold its funding to the FAI. It provides just under €3 million in Exchequer funding to the FAI each year. 

The FAI came in for sharp criticism following the appearance of Delaney, President Donal Conway and other senior figures at an Oireachtas Committee hearing last week. 

On Monday, it was announced that Delaney had offered to step aside pending an independent investigation into the FAI

On the following day, Minister Ross appeared before the same committee and said he’d been told by the board of the FAI that all its members intended to step down in July. 

In his statement, Ross described the FAI’s appearance before the committee last week as “shambolic”.

“I am pleased to confirm to the committee that in the last few hours, the FAI has written to me, indicating decisive action has been taken,” Ross said.

Brexit risks

In February, Delaney began his letter: “We are writing to you about the effects we believe Brexit will have on Irish football.

The association has already lost European funding for a very important initiative ‘More than a Club’ which is being run at both Bohemian FC and Cork City FC as it was a joint initiative with Wales funded by the EU. As Wales are now leaving the EU funding for this valuable project has been withdrawn putting the project and the four jobs that it has created at risk unless alternative funding can be found.

According to the website for More than a Club, it’s a project that “aims to cooperate with local professional football clubs in Ireland and Wales and assist them in the development of stand-alone social enterprises which will promote important support to address underserved social needs within disadvantaged communities”.

delaney to ross

The funds provided to the FAI for this initiative – which launched in 2017 – by the EU was €572,183. The total project budget from the FAI was €715,229.

In a statement, an FAI spokesman told TheJournal.ie that the More Than A Club project was due to come to an end this summer.

“A small amount of funding has been secured to extend the programme for a short period of time and all involved are aware of this,” the spokesman added.

 

Under age football

“In addition,” Delaney wrote to Ross, “whilst the SSE Airtricity League clubs have now developed an academy system in Ireland with a clear elite pathway to play professional football, a number of our promising players continue to move to the UK at the age of 16 to join professional clubs in the UK”.

He outlined that this is due to an exception in Fifa regulations around the transfer of players that allows players within the EU or EEA (European Economic Area) to transfer to clubs within that territory provided a number of conditions are met.

delaney to ross 1

Under the Theresa May’s much-maligned Brexit withdrawal agreement, the UK would leave the EEA after Brexit. 

“Given the uncertainty surrounding Brexit it is unclear what effect this will have on players that are currently in the UK under this exception but have not yet reached their 18th birthday,” the now-former CEO said.

Delaney said that facilitating top elite young players to play full-time football at 16 has a positive impact on their sporting development and benefits the national team in the long-run. 

“The movement of such players has also been good for our football eco-system as under FIFA rules when a players [sic] signs a professional contract his training club in Ireland will receive training compensation which allows money to be reinvested in football over here and develop our elite player pathway even further,” he told the Minister.

We would ask the Irish government to take this issue into consideration when negotiating on Brexit as of the UK remain in the EEA this will allow the FIFA exception rule to still apply. 

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Sean Murray

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