John Delaney has confirmed FIFA paid the Football Association of Ireland millions of euros to stop them launching a legal case over their World Cup play-off defeat to France in 2009. A handball in the build-up to William Gallas' extra-time goal ultimately sent France through to the 2010 finals in South Africa at the expense of the Republic of Ireland. The controversial incident in the second leg of their play-off, which finished 1-1 to give France a 2-1 aggregate win, was not spotted by Swedish referee Martin Hansson and left the FAI fuming.
Chief executive Delaney revealed he made his feelings known in a no-holds-barred exchange with FIFA president Sepp Blatter - who announced he would step down from his role after 17 years this week - and the outcome was a financial agreement between the two parties. Reports last year claimed the payment was five million euros. Delaney told state broadcaster, RTE Radio 1: "We felt we had a legal case against FIFA because of how the World Cup play-off hadn't worked out for us with the (Thierry) Henry handball. Also the way Blatter behaved, if you remember on stage, having a snigger and having a laugh at us. That day when I went in, and I told him how I felt about him, there were some expletives used. We came to an agreement. That was a Thursday and on Monday the agreement was all signed and all done. It's a very good and a very legitimate agreement for the FAI. I'm bound by confidentiality from naming the figure. You've put a figure out there and fair play to you. It was a payment to the association to not proceed with a legal case. In there, they signed a confidentiality agreement where I can't talk about the amount involved. You used a figure there, well done to you, but it was a very good and legitimate deal for the FAI".
FIFA responded to Delaney's revelation by insisting the payment was "a loan", which was intended to be paid back if Ireland qualified for World Cup 2014. “On 18 November 2009, there was play-off match between France and the Republic of Ireland for a place in the 2010 World Cup finals. During the match, a handball by France’s Thierry Henry led indirectly to a goal against the Irish team. Ireland did not qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals," said a FIFA statement. “While the referee’s decision is final, and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) ultimately accepted it as such, in January 2010 Fifa entered into an agreement with FAI in order to put an end to any claims against Fifa. Fifa granted FAI a loan of $5 million for the construction of a stadium in Ireland. At the same time, UEFA also granted the FAI funds for the same stadium. The terms agreed between Fifa and the FAI were that the loan would be imbursed if Ireland qualified for the 2014 Fifa World Cup. Ireland did not so qualify. Because of this, and in view of the FAI’s financial situation, Fifa decided to write off the loan as per 31 December 2014”.
However, the FAI soon responded with a statement of their own. It said: "Further to FIFA's statement this evening in relation to the €5m settlement with the FAI, the Association can now confirm that a legal settlement agreement was reached with FIFA following the threat of a legal case by the Association against world governing body in early 2010. The matter has been reported before in the media however the Association has, until now, abided by the confidentiality agreement required by FIFA as part of the settlement. The settlement was reached following strong legal advice given to the Association regarding the case against FIFA, and was a legitimate payment that enabled the Association to put €5m into the Aviva stadium project. This is fully reflected in our financial statements which are audited independently. The Association accepted FIFA's settlement offer to avoid a long, costly and protracted legal case. The offer given to the Association was fully written off by FIFA in 2014. FIFA's settlement with the Association has at no time influenced the FAI's criticism of FIFA as demonstrated by our consistent criticisms of Sepp Blatter. Furthermore the settlement was made without any conditions other than confidentiality".
Jim Boyce, who stepped down as Britain's FIFA vice-president last week, labelled the payment "ridiculous" and said there should be a full investigation into such "arbitrary" payments. Boyce, from Northern Ireland, said: "I'm absolutely astounded - I have never heard anything as ridiculous in my life. If a payment of five million [dollars] has been paid because of a handball and threatened legal action then I hope a full investigation will be carried out into this and any other such arbitrary payments".
Ireland turned in arguably their best performance under former boss Giovanni Trapattoni at the Stade de France and were brimming with confidence when Robbie Keane's 33rd-minute strike cancelled out a first-leg deficit. However, Gallas' late equaliser broke Irish hearts with television replays clearly showing Henry's offence, for which he later apologised. France failed to make it out of their group in South Africa, taking just a point from their three first round games.