|The cream of local football. They may have less to celebrate tonight.|
Setting aside the Ulster Unionist party‘s leadership election, for the time being, another incorrigible organisation is meeting tonight to make an equally fateful decision.
The Irish Football Association is on the cusp of receiving public money to redevelop Windsor Park, which hosts the international team. However a set of controversial proposals about the body’s internal structures could derail that process and leave Northern Ireland effectively without a home.
At tonight’s Extraordinary General Meeting delegates from member clubs and associations will vote on the ’Dunloy Proposals’ to reorganise the IFA. Put forward by a junior team from the Ballymena and District League, this document represents an attempt by amateur clubs to rebalance the Association’s governance in their favour.
Dunloy needs a 75% vote to go its way if the proposals are to be ratified, but there is a very real danger that that could happen. Although senior and intermediate clubs are set against the proposals amateur teams form the bulk of the IFA’s membership.
The reason that this arcane power struggle is of wider relevance is because the Association’s stewardship of the local game is already under substantial government and media scrutiny.
The Culture Minister, Nelson McCausland, has indicated that £23 million earmarked to spruce up Windsor Park and other monies will not be released until the IFA gets its act together.
That entails instigating an immediate independent review into the body’s structures and accepting its recommendations. It doesn’t involve going off half-cocked and endorsing a junior team’s power-grab, which actually proposes to reduce independent representation on the Executive Board.
McCausland has already made it clear that he is reluctant to hand more public money to the IFA while its President, Raymond Kennedy, remains in place. Kennedy first announced his intention to resign months ago, after admitting responsibility for dismissing former Chief Executive Howard Wells against legal advice, therefore costing the Association £500,000.
He is still there and his promise to leave is being edged ever further into the future. The debacle over the President exacerbates the sense of a governing body in crisis and an endorsement for the Dunloy Proposals would make things even worse.
Of course amateur football, women’s football, schools’ football and the like are integral parts of the game’s grassroots and they deserve to be represented at the top table. To pursue a project of aggrandisement at such a sensitive time, though, to the detriment of the entire organisation, senior clubs and the international team, is madness.
For the good of local football it must be hoped that these proposals are soundly defeated, or withdrawn. Windsor Park has been patched up for another campaign, but it needs urgent work, and soon, if it is to be fit for purpose in the long term