Ironman group threatens legal action against Triathlon Ireland over Youghal race claim

US-owned group Ironman International threatens legal action against Triathlon Ireland over disputed race in Co Cork amid escalating row over the event

The US-owned Ironman group has threatened legal action against Triathlon Ireland over the disputed race in Co Cork in which two swimmers died.

In an escalating row over the event that started in rough seas off Youghal, Ironman International has told Triathlon Ireland to withdraw a statement about the tragedy or face a court claim for defamation.

The deaths of Brendan Wall (45) and Ivan Chittenden (64) remain under investigation by gardaí as they prepare a file for the Cork city coroner.

There were more than 2,000 participants in the fatal race nine days ago, with some swimmers complaining of “horrendous” and “scary” conditions in the water that left them “frightened” and “struggling”.


Close observers of the affair believe litigation may be imminent. Ironman International, the New York-based organiser of the Youghal event, is in deep dispute with Triathlon Ireland, the State-funded national governing body for the sport, over the circumstances in which the race began.

Ironman has emphatically rejected Triathlon Ireland’s assertion that the US group was told “before the start of the race” it was not possible to sanction the contest because of “adverse conditions” on the day. A sanction for a triathlon is a form of official permit, with insurance implications for contestants.

Contrary to Triathlon Ireland’s stance, Ironman has insisted it learned of the decision not to sanction the Youghal race only “several hours after the swim was completed”. The swim is the first part of a triathlon, followed by the cycling leg and then the running race.

Ironman solicitors Dentons have told Triathlon Ireland solicitors Ogier Leman they will initiate a defamation action this week if the governing body does not publicly withdraw its statement about the sanction ruling being issued before the race.

There was no comment from Ironman on the dispute. Triathlon Ireland did not reply to questions about the threat to issue a defamation action. Neither organisation has provided proof to back up their opposing assertions.

Deaths at the Youghal Ironman: what went wrong?

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The Triathlon Ireland website said its insurance did not cover contestants in a “non-sanctioned” race. Still, the body’s chief executive Darren Coombes sent an email to clubs last Friday night saying the insurer had confirmed the personal accident policy “was operative during the event” subject to the “usual” terms and conditions.

Asked whether there was a conflict between saying the decision had been communicated before the race and saying the insurance was operative, Triathlon Ireland did not answer.

Arachas, the insurance broker in the Triathlon Ireland scheme, had no comment on the dispute.

In one statement last week, Ironman noted Triathlon Ireland’s officials “were present during the event and performed their duties”. Triathlon Ireland did not reply to a question about the status of such work by officials in light of the disputed claim that the sanction ruling had been handed down before the race began.

Racers were required to sign a waiver warning of the risk of “discomfort, illness, injury and even death”, in which they assumed “full and complete risk and responsibility for any discomfort, illness, injury or accident”.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times