Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers believes an independent body needs to be formed to run the League of Ireland and ensure the domestic game here continues to grow.
The 38-year-old PFAI chairman made his comments in the wake of another bleak week for the FAI with Minister for Sport Shane Ross confirming on Wednesday that the association sought an €18 million bail out from the government on Monday.
With the possibility of the association entering into examinership, the concerns of League of Ireland players, staff and supporters were raised when the Minister said it was his guess that if the FAI goes, the league would too.
While Minister Ross and Minister of State Brendan Griffin later rowed back on their comments in a statement which said the insolvency of the association would allow clubs to “rebound quickly and fulfil fixtures”, they did admit that they would need to clarify this when they meet UEFA in the New Year.
Reacting to the latest crisis, Rogers – who as chairman of the PFAI represents around 240 of the 300 or so players in the league – said the latest revelations were “concerning” if not surprising.
“It’s concerning really to see what is going to develop because of the way the governing body has been ran for a number of years,” he said.
“It shows too the way the league has been treated by the governing body for years. The fans and supporters have been well aware of that because they’ve made their voices heard all over the country for a long time but it wasn’t until all this stuff came out that it really uncovered the actions of our former CEO and how the governing body has been mismanaged. The league has been mistreated within all of that as well.
“It’s obviously hugely concerning that the governing body is in the state that it’s in. We obviously need that to be rectified in order to support the leagues but the clubs themselves will not go bust because the clubs really don’t get all that much from the governing body as it is in terms of prize money and stuff like that.
“When you look at the way the FAI have handled sponsorship deals, TV deals or any sort of revenue that comes in in relation to the league, the league clubs don’t know what they’re worth so it will be interesting to see in the different forensic reports whether we get some light shed on that subject to see exactly what revenue the league is creating.
“For me, what the clubs and the league need to do is break away from the FAI and have some sort of loose affiliation with the FAI where they still look after officials and referees in order to maintain the national team.
The league should govern itself as a separate department solely responsible for promoting and running the league because the way it has been ran over the last 10 or 15 years just hasn’t been good enough,” he said.
While the league folding would be a worst case scenario, Rogers feels this cannot be allowed to happen due to the number of jobs and ancillary jobs created by it.
“When you look at Dundalk on its own and what it means to the community and the people, it would be incredible to think that that just wouldn’t be there,” he said.
“Football is embedded within the community in Dundalk and the surrounding areas and you look at all the jobs that come off the back of the club. It’s not just players but there’s office staff and all little spin-off jobs that come off the club around the town whether that be caterers, bus companies, printing companies or even media. To think that that would go would be a massive concern not only for the players but for everyone associated with the League of Ireland.
“The disappointing thing was that both Ministers said that the League of Ireland would go. That’s not the case but that’s the way it was painted so it’s disappointing that they weren’t informed. That was a mistake on their behalf and I know they’ve put out a statement to clear that up but they just weren’t prepared for a question on the League of Ireland.
“They probably thought they were there just to discuss the governing body but as you know it’s all the one. That was disappointing but the statement that has come out since gives a little bit of relief to us as players and all that are involved with the league.”
There are also fears that any repercussions from UEFA could lead to Irish clubs being expelled from Europe for five years. This is something that Rogers feels cannot be allowed to happen.
“The loss of European football if that were to come about would be a massive concern to all the clubs because that’s really where you can make your money,” said the Meath man.
“The prize money in the league is not really worth talking about especially when you factor in the affiliation fees to get in. Again, when you finish the season you have to tally up all the fines that you may have occurred during the season and depending on where you finish that prize money might not be worth a whole lot to you so European money is really where clubs can make a few quid throughout the season.
“It’s a massive source of revenue for clubs and it would be a concern for clubs if that was gone. You seen Waterford last year, they had budgeted to have European money and then their approach changed halfway through the year when that slot was taken off them. I’m sure Dundalk, as an example, have budgeted this year for European money to come in and if that were to be removed it would be a huge concern for the owners but I’m sure the clubs are well prepared at this stage and you’d be hopeful that things will resolve themselves and that sort of scenario won’t come into play.”
The one silver lining is that Rogers believes the bottom of the barrel has now been reached and is hopeful that a new era for Irish football can finally be welcomed in in 2020.
“I don’t really think there can be much more worse to come. It’s as low as it can be. I don’t really know how it can get any lower in terms of the governing body and the state that it’s in at the minute.
“There has got to be a massive rebuilding process there. Who’s to know what comes out of it because it looks like the government is going to have to get involved and UEFA are also going to have to play a role. A lot of extra people are going to be needed in order to put Irish football back in a healthy state and to start moving forward to do our business properly, invest in the game and get it running smoothly and properly with proper governing structures around it.
“Wednesday was heightened because of the reactions of people but I do believe the league will start as planned in February regardless of the FAI situation.
“I don’t see the FAI being liquidated. I think it will be resolved whether it be the government or UEFA who resolve it but I do think it will be trashed out and there will be some sort of contingency put in place. There’s obviously a very important meeting with UEFA in January but I think everything will go ahead.
“I’d like to see an independent body running the league. Obviously the clubs should have an input into it with a loose association with the FAI but you want a scenario where clubs’ opinions and voices are heard and I don’t think that has been the case in the past.
“You want someone to take responsibility to promote the league properly because across the board we have to show our league in a better light,” said Rogers.