CEO Owens says struggling FAI...


CEO Owens says struggling FAI planning without fans for 2021

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Gary Owens says he's glad the misunderstandings about what's been happening at board level at the FAI have finally been cleared up. 

A comfortable majority of delegates on Monday night voted in favour of governance changes that secures the immediate future of the association.

With the Memorandum of Understanding agreed upon, the FAI will now be able to access €35million of public money.

"It's been a long journey," the Interim FAI CEO told Off The Ball's Football Show, "Since we got involved - we started the process in late February when we joined, and then we had COVID-19 on the 17/18 of March.

"We probably had planned to try and get it over the line at the end of April. It's been a long aul journey, so delighted.

"It was a really good majority tonight. I think people are really comfortable.

"We've had a couple of good information meetings in the last two weeks, quite extensive just to make sure that we were clearing the air on a lot of things.

"People misunderstood what was going on, and I think once we got that we got a lot of support."

Owens also clarified what the sticking points were between the established 'football people', regarding the new structure of the FAI Board.

One of the Memorandum's stipulations is that the Board is comprised of six independent directors, and six from within the football community

"There were probably four key changes," Owens said, "We were basically moving from a council to a general assembly and that just widens the whole democratic base.

"Having a more scientific and analytical base for deciding who should be in the membership and we needed to widen that, and that was in line with FIFA and UEFA best practice.

"We were putting in the electoral code, which was basically [a] fit and proper, conflict of interest, skillset test for anybody on commities and on the board.

"They were the two big ones. And then we had the '6 and 6', and basically we got the council members extended until July 2022.

"There were probably four key changes that we were proposing, and they were all really linked to good corporate governance.

"We were very much involved with all of the stakeholders. It wasn't just Sport Ireland and the Department, but we had UEFA and FIFA and then, in the background, Bank of Ireland who were obviously keen in making sure the governances structures were in place.

"I think one of the misunderstandings was who actually controlled the association, and the General Assembly will - which is a sovereign body - and they always have the power to make the decisions.

"I think what we've put in place is a good governing structure and now we've got to prove to them that it will work."

Planning without fans for 2021

Owens admits the FAI are "struggling" financially, saying, "We've taken a loan of €24million from the Bank of Ireland. We had a plan, and then COVID came which would have hit us for another €10.5m.

"We're going to get some government support on that. We expected the fans to be back in for the international matches - starting next Sunday - so that's not going to happen.

"So it's going to be very fragile. We need to plan now on the basis that we won't have have fans in the grounds for next year as a contingency.

"That will make it quite fragile, we don't have a lot of money. The main streams of income are going to be under a lot of pressure."

We need to rebuild public trust

Owens was asked if the FAI brand is now so toxic that it will require a full rebrand, and renaming.

"We've got our centenary next year," he replied, "So I think what we definitely need to do is rebuild public trust.

"So we fully understand that, and I think sponsorship goes with that. And there is a significant amount of opportunity on sponsorship right across all our international teams - and in grassroots, actually - because different brands have different interests.

"When you think about it, we have four-times the number of players, and the IRFU - and good luck to them - have probably four-times the sponsorship.

"We just need to get that balance right. We need to build trust with sponsors. We need to build trust with key stakeholders, including the Government.

"We're going to have the Euros here next year, and that brings a lot of money into the economy and we need to have stronger negotiating skills, stronger public trust, and I think that will deliver us the type of sponsorship we deserve and need."

No conflict of interest

Owens dismissed the idea that there was a conflict of interest regarding the relationship between interim chair Roy Barrett and Bank of Ireland chairman Patrick Kennedy, who recommended Barrett for the role to recruitment firm, Amrop.

"I know Amrop for a long time," Owens said, "And they have a great network to recommend people for different roles. They basically did that, and then Roy went through the nominations committee and was approved by the Board.

"The Bank of Ireland were our existing bankers. There wasn't a lot of people around who were going to help us deal with the type of problems that we had - they were quite significant.

"No-one was rushing to the table to try and provide the type of support that we needed.

"We had a lot of the stakeholders in that. There was the Bank of Ireland, but there was also UEFA and FIFA, and there was Sport Ireland and the Department of Sport. And, to be honest, we wouldn't have been able to get over the line without all of them working together.

"We've always been fully transparent about that. We've tried to create a spirit of transparency in relation to what our debt was, exactly where we were getting the funding, and what we had to be able to do to satisfy those stakeholders."

Cabinteely chairman Larry Bass - a member of the FAI's finance committee - claimed there was a conflict of interest regarding Barrett's relationship with the Mr. Kennedy.

When asked if the FAI could have been more open about that relationship, Owens told host Joe Molloy,"If we'd have thought about it in that way, I would say 'yes', but it never came up until recently and we never even saw it as a conflict of interest because Roy hasn't had a conversation with Patrick since then.

"I think in hindsight, maybe it should have. But we've had no conversations with Patrick as part of the refinancing - or Roy hasn't."

The Interim CEO says options were thin on the ground regarding loan options, "I'd go so far as to say it [the Bank of Ireland loan] was the only show in town at the time," Owens added.

"When we get to a point where we can stabilise the finances, then all bets are off, and we have to provide proper procurement and go out and find the best source of finance we can.

"But at that time, we couldn't. We were very close to insolvency, we were two weeks away from it until we got the money from the bank."

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EGM FAI Gary Owens Niall Quinn Republic Of Ireland Roy Barrett Soccer

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