Youghal Ironman: US Ironman group and Triathlon Ireland clash over status of race in which two died

Brendan Wall (40s) and Ivan Chittenden (64) both died in the swim section of the 2023 Youghal event over the weekend

The national body for triathlons and the organisers of the Ironman event in which two swimmers died have clashed over the circumstances in which the Cork race started.

As the Opposition pressed for an independent inquiry into the deaths, sharp divisions emerged between national governing body Triathlon Ireland and the US-owned Ironman group over the status of the race which began in rough seas at Youghal on Sunday.

Athletes have complained of “horrendous” conditions during the sea swim part of the event, in which Ivan Chittenden (64) and Brendan Wall (45) died.

National governing body Triathlon Ireland (TI) last night said its decision not to sanction the race because of safety issues was communicated to Ironman before the race began. That statement contradicted Ironman’s assertion that it was informed of the Triathlon Ireland decision not to sanction the race only hours after the swim finished.


The official sanction for a triathlon is a form of governing body permit for the race. According to Triathlon Ireland’s website, the insurance scheme for its members does not cover competitors in a race without such a sanction.

There was no Ironman reply to questions about the insurance status of the Youghal race, in which there were more than 2,000 competitors.

Contradictory claims point to tension between the national body and Ironman, whose New York-based owner Advance controls the Condé Nast magazine empire and has a big investment in entertainment group Warner Bros Discovery.

In its Tuesday statement, Ironman said it works with national federations “around the world” to organise more than 150 races annually. “As such, federation representatives were present during the event and performed their duties,” Ironman said, referring to Triathlon Ireland.

“Several hours after the swim was completed, they communicated to the on-site Ironman Ireland officials that they would not approve the sanctioning for the event.”

Triathlon Ireland was quick to dispute that account. “For the Ironman Cork event, in line with normal practice, Triathlon Ireland technical officials attended before the start of the race to review the conditions and carry out a water safety assessment,” the body said.

“Due to adverse conditions on the day, before the start of the race Triathlon Ireland technical officials confirmed to the race organisers that it was not possible to sanction the race.”

Ironman had no response to questions about Triathlon Ireland’s statement. World Triathlon rules published by the Irish body say the official permit for a race “is a declaration by the sanctioning authority that plans for the event have been thoroughly inspected and have been found to comply fully with the requirements of national federation operating requirements to provide the greatest potential for the conduct of a safe and fair event”.

Triathlon Ireland had no answer when asked whether the decision not to sanction the race meant its insurance did not cover members competing in Youghal. However, the body’s website states: “Triathlon Ireland Insurance does not cover you whilst competing in a non-sanctioned event.”

Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews, the party’s spokesman on sport, called for an investigation by Sport Ireland, the public authority responsible for sports governance.

“We need to see an independent inquiry take place into the conditions on the day and the tragic deaths of these two athletes, and I call on Sport Ireland to take a central role in this,” Mr Andrews said.

Sport Ireland said it had nothing to add to a Department of Sport statement, which said the Youghal race was organised by a private commercial organisation. The statement said Minister of State for Sport Thomas Byrne had asked “Sport Ireland to liaise with Triathlon Ireland in relation to these events and to provide any suitable support that may be required”.

Meanwhile, an Ironman race scheduled to be held in Youghal in 2024 has been advertised on the Triathlon company’s website. According to the web page, the race is set to take place on August 11th, 2024.

Cork County Council was the host sponsor of the Ironman event last Sunday. In a statement, the local authority said that Ironman is the owner of the event and has “sole responsibility” for the management and co-ordination of same.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin on Tuesday, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the thoughts of the Government are with the two families.

“Unquestionably, there are very serious issues that need to be addressed ... We want to get to the truth,” he said.

Other event participants said on Sunday they felt the event had been organised well and with due diligence to safety.

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times