Monday 16 September 2019

The business of sport leaves a raft of questions hanging over FAI

SPORT is an arena that should be entirely free from the poorer aspects of human behaviour.

It occupies a place in our psyche like few other pursuits because of the very ideals of fairness and physical prowess it embodies. In following the exploits of favourite athletes and teams, fans rise above the drudgery of daily life as part of a single, powerful community of support.

We Irish experience this at a level like few other nationalities. Our GAA is unique in the world, driven by an organisation with an influence felt right across every part of society, from the highest level on the field of play at All-Ireland time to underage training on Saturday mornings; with so many in every community working hard voluntarily each week to improve their clubs.

While not as powerful a movement in Irish life, soccer is considerable also with clubs in towns and villages across the country playing a hugely positive role in the life of the community.

When the Green Army goes on the march overseas behind the Republic of Ireland squad, the whole country becomes electrified in a phenomenon that has profound impact on the pride and self belief of our small nation.

Sadly, in keeping with every other field of human endeavour, sport is - as we well know - wholly susceptible to human weakness.

The storm surrounding the FIFA 'loan' of €5 million to the Football Association of Ireland has exploded into a massive controversy, overshadowing other stories and events and showing what can happen to a beloved game when it becomes big business.

Players of all disciplines reading the news this week must feel greatly disheartened by the apparent sacrificing of a chance at World Cup participation in exchange for lots of money. This is the most worrying aspect of the entire saga, despite what John Delaney might feel about the FAI's success in acquiring such a figure.

What does it say about the mentality of an organisation governing one of the most important sports in a country that it might decide in favour of its own financing at the cost of the very thing for which it was formed? Not a hell of a lot.

Delaney has a big job of course. He's well paid for it on €360,000 a year, a figure you would think might require of him to answer questions when questions are asked. However, there was little to be heard from him at the weekend as the storm intensified over the many questions his appearance on RTÉ's Ray D'arcy Show left hanging in the ether.

The Oireachtas Sports Committee might be our only avenue now to find out exactly what the money was 'loaned' out for (coming a year before the FAI last voted in support of Blatter's Presidency); and whether or not it came at the expense of a chance at the World Cup 2010.

If any good is to come of all this, Delaney and his team will explain everything in full and consider their own positions. It must be said that they have accomplished a lot for soccer nationwide with many clubs now in possession of excellent facilities through FAI support. But nothing less than the reputation of the game in Ireland is now at stake.

Wexford People