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Organisers confident €56m American football game will go ahead despite sanctioning row

Less than three months from the game in the Aviva stadium, it remains unsanctioned.

Boston College Ga Tech Football Georgia Tech and Boston College do battle in 2007. Source: AP/Press Association Images

A HIGH-PROFILE college American football game between Boston College and Georgia Tech at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, which organisers say is worth more than €50 million to the local economy, could be in jeopardy if administrative deadlines are not met.

The game is under threat due to sanctioning problems.

Under Irish regulations, the recognised National Governing Body (NGB) is responsible for sanctioning all competitive fixtures in their code held in the country. If, for example, Barcelona and Real Madrid wanted to play a league game in Croke Park, the FAI would have to sanction the event.

The Irish Sports Council recognises the Irish American Football Association (IAFA) as American football’s NGB.

However, it appears that a claim for legal fees incurred by the IAFA have not been paid back by the company running the game – Irish American Events Limited. The IAFA has set a deadline of this Thursday for those fees, alleged to be around €11,500 + VAT, to be paid or it will refuse to sanction the game.

In documents sent to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the IAFA states that these fees only exist because of delays on the part of Irish American Events Limited leading to a disagreement between the two. The IAFA alleges it paid the fees on the understanding they would be paid back.

A spokesperson for the IAFA would not be drawn on the documents but stated:

“The purpose of the sanctioning process is to check that all games played in this jurisdiction comply with minimum safety, welfare and insurance requirements.

“We cannot comment on the status of the Irish American Events Limited application at this moment. We will make a statement on the matter in a few days time.”

Meanwhile,  a spokesperson for Irish American Events Limited (IAEL) told us that the game “will go ahead”.

He claims it has been sanctioned by the body which oversees college athletics in the US.

He would not say if the IAFA had sanctioned the game.


31/3/2016 The Aer Lingus College Football Classic Mascots from both Boston College and Georgia Tech at the launch of the game in March. Source: Mark Stedman/Rolling News.ie

In the documents sent to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Irish American Events Limited is accused by the IAFA of failing to comply with the “minimum sanctioning requirements”.

The spokesperson for IAEL said that negotiations between the parties were subject to a confidentiality agreement, so they couldn’t comment further.

The IAEL spokesperson said:

The game will go ahead. It has been sanctioned by the NCAA, tickets have been sold with 20,000 people coming from the US.

“There is no reason the game won’t go ahead.”

However, the NCAA are not the sanctioning body for American football in the US — that role is played by USA Football — and their own constitution says that one of its core purposes is “to cooperate with other amateur organisations in promoting national and international athletics events”.

An email to IAEL containing a detailed list of follow-up queries was not responded to.


Tyler Eifert catches the ball in the end zone Current NFL star Tyler Eifert catches a touchdown in the last game played in the Aviva Stadium back in 2012. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The documents indicate that Irish American Events Limited was first informed of the need to sanction the game, dubbed the Aer Lingus College Football Classic, in May 2015 but only began the formal process in March of this year, nine months after it was announced by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Sources close to a previous game held in Croke Park in 2014 say this process took two weeks.

At a meeting to begin the process this time around, IAEL requested the compliance costs of €10,000 be waived and that some of the legal fees associated with sanctioning the game be absorbed by the Irish American Football Association.

These terms were agreed to by the IAFA in a bid to get the game over the line.

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A general view of the game between Penn State and University of Central Florida in Croke Park A view of the ending to the Penn State - UCF game played in Croke Park in 2014. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

However, it is understood that Irish American Events Limited has failed to sign the sanction agreement which forced the IAFA to give the company until 16 June to comply with sanctioning — and pay €11,500 (plus VAT) in legal fees associated with their non-compliance — or the game, scheduled for 3 September, will not go ahead.

Draft accounts for the IAFA, which is a completely amateur organisation, show that it had around €30,000 in the bank at the end of 2014.

Further correspondence shows that the IAFA’s position is supported by the world governing body for the sport the International Federation of American Football.


31/3/2016 The Aer Lingus College Football Classic Georgia Tech cheerleader Jacklyn Carroll, Aer Lingus crew member Carol O'Reilly, Georgia Tech cheerleader Sarah Kate Somers, Aer Lingus crew member Laura McCabe, Boston College cheerleaders Elizabeth Pehota and Aer Lingus crew member Danielle Coughlan at the launch of the game. Source: Mark Stedman

The game has already made headlines.

In March this year, documents released to The42 under Freedom of Information showed that GAA president Paraic Duffy accused the Department of Transports, Tourism and Sport and then-minister Paschal Donohoe of making his organisation ‘look foolish’ over what he said was their decision to financially support the game in the Aviva after refusing the same support for a Croke Park match-up.

The 2014 game hosted by the GAA between Penn State and the University of Central Florida was much smoother.

Sources familiar with the 2014 negotiations say that the sanctioning process took only two weeks to complete, after which compliance costs of €10,000 was paid by the GAA to IAFA.


The GAA has previously claimed that €300,000 of public money was provided to the bid to put this game in the Aviva Stadium.

GAA Director General Paraic Duffy claimed in a letter released to The42 under Freedom of Information that “cash and benefit-in-kind in the order of €650k” was given to Irish American Events Ltd.

The Department had not responded to a set of questions when going to print, but sources say they are aware of the issues.

Read: GAA accuses Department of Sport of making them ‘look foolish’ over American football game

About the author:

Steve O'Rourke & Paul Hosford

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