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The Emerald Isle Classic will feature University of Notre Dame's Fighting Irish versus Navy in an American Football match played out at Dublin's Aviva Stadium. The event is expected to draw tens of thousands of tourists to Ireland, and create a major boost for tourism. Photo by: NDNA logo

Irish American Football Association responds to Navy charges of forced payments

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The Emerald Isle Classic will feature University of Notre Dame's Fighting Irish versus Navy in an American Football match played out at Dublin's Aviva Stadium. The event is expected to draw tens of thousands of tourists to Ireland, and create a major boost for tourism. Photo by: NDNA logo

Last week Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk stated that there was an attempt to have them pay the local American football football organization in Ireland before the Navy/Notre Dame game was authorised Here the IAFA responds to his charges.

To understand the issues surrounding the Emerald Isle Classic, you need to understand the structure of sport in Ireland. Unlike the United States, sport is regulated. The Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport and one of its agencies, the Irish Sports Council (ISC) recognize one National Governing Body (NGB) in each sport which has an organized national structure. To maintain this status, NGBs must adhere to prescribed standards in areas such as corporate governance, finances, child protection, coaches certification etc and hit annual development targets agreed with the ISC.

The system can be described as a ‘social contract’ whereby the NGBs regulate their particular sport in return for development funding from Government. All competitive sport must adhere to the various guidelines, not just those activities run by the NGB.

Public policy also dictates that local grassroots sport must benefit from all large sporting events hosted in Ireland. While each NGB is ultimately responsible for the development of its own sport, such events are expected to contribute. NGBs in Ireland jealously protect their right to seek development contributions from the promoters of large events as part of the sanction conditions.
The Irish American Football Association (IAFA) is the NGB for American football. Like many of the smaller NGBs in Ireland, it is a voluntary members’ organization with no paid staff. Since its formation in 2001, its membership has increased from less than 100 to over 1,700. It achieved NGB status in 2004. Its principal activities include running Ireland’s kitted football league – the IAFL, which as 11 teams and a further 6 in development; a schools flag football program with approximately 700 kids; and training courses for coaches and officials. It is regarded as being one of the better run NGBs in Ireland – hence it is one of the very few which has not had its grant aid cut due to Ireland’s economic recession.

When the Emerald Isle Classic was first muted, the IAFA contacted Martin Cullen TD, who was Minister for Sport at the time. It highlighted the need to put in place certain development initiatives to cope with the additional pressures that the surge in demand generated by the event would place on its volunteers. Lessons learned from previous large football events, showed that a failure to put these supports in place could have a very negative impact on the sport locally.

For the Emerald Isle Classic, the IAFA identified childrens’ flag football and university sectors as being the areas most in need of support – hence the inclusion of the schools program and the equipment donation to universities as the principal development initiatives. The IAFA’s schools flag football program is already oversubscribed and has a long waiting list of primary schools (grade/middle schools) wanting to participate.

Prior to issuing the draft sanction conditions, the IAFA consulted with the Irish Sports Council (ISC) as well as some overseas football organizations.

It regarded the ISC staff as having some expertise in this area due to their knowledge of the Irish NGB sector. The ISC provided detailed feedback which was taken on board by the IAFA prior to the issue of the draft sanction conditions to the US Naval Academy (‘Navy’) in October 2010. The Emerald Isle Classic is a Navy event. During the months of November and December 2010, there were some discussions regarding the implementation of the sanction conditions. IFAF and USA Football expressed an interest in assisting and Navy indicated that it was happy to sign the sanction documentation.

The sanction documentation, which included some local regulatory requirements as well as development and promotional initiatives, was signed by both sides at a meeting in Dublin on 16th March 2011. The meeting was very cordial with both sides indicating a willingness to work together. In July 2011, the IAFA contacted Robb Dunn of Navy regarding the finalization of the implementation of sanction conditions and Mr. Dunn responded that he was not aware of any difficulties.

In December 2011, the promoters held a limited presale of tickets for the game. One of the original sanction conditions was that volunteers involved in the sport locally would have the opportunity to purchase tickets in this sale, however, it commenced without their inclusion. The IAFA complained directly to Navy, who intervened at short notice and arranged for their inclusion. By this time, work on the implementation of the development initiatives should have commenced, but, the IAFA had received no communications from Navy on these issues.

In March 2012, Mr. Julian Davis of Fleishman Hillard claimed that his company represented Navy in Ireland, however, the IAFA was told by Navy that they did not represent Navy in relation to these particular issues. In early May 2012 the IAFA wrote to Mr. Gladchuk indicating unhappiness with the lack of communication, confusion over their local representation and some outstanding regulatory requirements. Navy never responded to this letter. On 28th May 2012, the IAFA sent a letter, drafted by its solicitors, to Navy pointing out that the agreement was not being adhered to and that Fleishman Hillard appears to be attempting to renegotiate it. Navy never replied to this letter.

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