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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 26 October, 2014

Contract dispute threatens sold-out American football game in Dublin

The Irish American Football Association is threatening High Court action against the US Naval Academy as they claim conditions under which Emerald Isle Classic event is to be held have not been met.

Members of the Navy team heading onto the field before a game last November. Their college football season opener is to take place in Dublin - but potential legal proceedings could put that under threat.
Members of the Navy team heading onto the field before a game last November. Their college football season opener is to take place in Dublin - but potential legal proceedings could put that under threat.
Image: Ap Photo/Ann Heisenfelt/File)

THEJOURNAL.IE HAS LEARNED the Emerald Isle Classic, estimated to be worth €100 million to the Irish economy, is under threat of cancellation.

The high-profile event, sponsored by The Gathering, is the first game of the American College Football season and will see the US Naval Academy take on Notre Dame, known as ‘The Fighting Irish’, in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on 1 September.

The game is sold out and is expected to have a massive TV audience as it is to be screened on CBS in the United States and worldwide via ESPN America.

However, a source has informed TheJournal.ie that the Irish American Football Association (IAFA) is threatening to initiate High Court proceedings this month to prevent the game taking place if the US Naval Academy (Navy) does not agree to honour the terms of a sanctioning agreement entered into with the IAFA and signed in March 2011.

As the National Governing Body (NGB) the IAFA claims it is responsible for allowing the event take place in Ireland.

Following six months of negotiations, Navy signed a sanctioning agreement with the IAFA in Dublin in March 2011. This document, seen by TheJournal.ie, was signed by Navy’s Associate Athletic Director, Robb Dunn.

The conditions attached to the sanctioning agreement were designed to facilitate the grassroots development of American football in Ireland, the most prominent of which was to be a ‘flag-football’ programme for 1,500 Irish schoolchildren.

To initiate this programme, Navy was due to open an Irish bank account from which Navy and an independent panel, not the IAFA, would distribute funds to support this programme. However, the IAFA claims that no progress has been made on this issue.

The IAFA also claims that Navy has failed to provide them with evidence the event is fully insured or with mandatory documentation relating to various health and safety matters surrounding the game, as per the sanctioning agreement.

When contacted by TheJournal.ie to respond to these claims, Navy failed to reply directly, instead issuing a brief statement through their PR company, Fleishman Hillard.

It reads:

It has been determined by the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) that the Irish American Football Association has no jurisdiction over this particular game and therefore no sanction is required.

TheJournal.ie contacted IFAF to confirm this was the case as Article 4B of their 2009 statutes, under which the contested sanctioning agreement was signed, states: “[The Irish American Football Association] shall be recognized [sic] by IFAF as the only national governing body for all amateur American football in such a country.”

Furthermore, in July this year, the President of IFAF wrote to the IAFA to confirm that IFAF’s “international sanctioning rules cannot be applied” in this case and that the Emerald Isle Classic comes under the remit of the IAFA.

However, despite repeated attempts to contact the French-based organisation, IFAF have not clarified their position to TheJournal.ie.

The news of a possible cancellation of the game will be of concern to the estimated 33,000 fans travelling from the US for the game, as well as local supporters. Indeed, such is the demand for tickets, sets for four are selling for over €1,000 online.

TheJournal.ie understands the IAFA has attempted to initiate mediation with Navy but have been “frustrated” by the intervention of third parties who had little or no involvement before Navy signed the sanctioning agreement.

In a statement issued to TheJournal.ie an IAFA spokesperson said:

The Irish American Football Association is the officially recognised National Governing Body for the sport in Ireland. Its authority to sanction all American football activities in Ireland is very clear.

It should be noted that Navy did not avail of the option to appeal any aspect of the sanction conditions attached to the Emerald Isle Classic. Navy signed the sanction documentation on 16 March 2011 after having been in possession of the proposed conditions since 21 October 2010. Until recently, they have not communicated any difficulties in respect of these matters to the IAFA.

A resolution looks unlikely any time soon with a source close to the dispute telling TheJournal.ie: “Navy’s apparent failure to respect the IAFA’s status as the National Governing Body could have a major impact on other sports in Ireland due to the undesirable precedent it would set for
major events staged in this country.”

However, the IAFA has indicated a willingness to return to mediation with Navy in an effort to resolve this matter.

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