IFA situation still up in the air

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There is confusion over the future of IFA President Raymond Kennedy

An away win in Slovenia in September got Northern Ireland's Euro 2012 qualifying campaign off to the perfect start.

However, as the team prepared to take on Italy at Windsor Park on Friday night, off the pitch fans remain fearful that an own goal is about to be scored.

Sports Minister Nelson McCausland has made it clear that substantial government funding will be put at risk if Irish Football Association president Raymond Kennedy remains in the post.

However, uncertainty remains about whether Mr Kennedy will step down at an IFA meeting to elect a new leader on 18 October.

Portadown FC director Bobby Jameson has said he will call for a vote of no confidence in him at that meeting.

Five weeks ago, as he made his way home from the qualifier in Slovenia, Mr Kennedy was asked for his response to repeated calls for his resignation.

"If the minister says he wants my head and there's £30m at stake, do you think I'm going to put that in jeopardy? The answer to that is no," he said.

Mr Kennedy has been under intense pressure ever since an independent report into the sacking of former chief executive Howard Wells criticised his role in the affair.

Mr Wells' unfair dismissal case cost the Irish FA more than £500,000.

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Nelson McCausland has said funding is dependent on changes at the top of the IFA

However, last Friday during another BBC interview, the president seemed less clear about his intentions.

"There'll be no election for a president (on 18 October). My name's not been put forward - I've been elected," he said.

"I indicated I would step down on Monday 18 October."

However when pressed on whether he definitely would resign, he said: "No, I said we had a meeting of our association on Monday night, that's my intention. The bottom line is, come what may, I will not put any money at risk."

Sports Minister Nelson McCausland has made his intentions more clear in recent months.

"If I am to invest very large amounts of money - and we are talking about very large money here - not just in stadium development, but in other aspects of the sport, then it's important that the recipient of that money is a body fit for purpose.

"That has to involve change - change at the top, but also change right through the organisation and that's why we said the key to this is an independent thorough review that can look at the organisation and see how it can be properly shaped."

That review was called for six weeks ago, but to date, work on it has not started.

Barring a last-minute nomination, two names will be on the ballot paper for IFA president on 18 October - Mr Kennedy's and Mr Jameson's.

"People stop me in the street and say 'when is this going to happen, when is this going to go away' and it'll not go away as long as Mr Kennedy is still president," Mr Jameson said.

"The minister has said he must go, the executive board has said he must go... he has no support among the football fans of Northern Ireland.

"Twenty-three million pounds and one man is trying to stop that from coming to Northern Ireland football. That cannot be allowed to happen - that's why I'm standing against him."

The BBC understands Mr Kennedy can count on enough votes from within the IFA council to remain in his role beyond 18 October.

Although he has stated that he will not jeopardise government money for football, his re-election could do just that.

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