A fresh dispute has arisen over the fatal Ironman event in Co Cork after the US-owned race organisers rejected Triathlon Ireland claims they were refusing to co-operate with a new investigation into the tragedy.
The chaotic August race that started in rough seas off Youghal claimed the lives of two swimmers, Brendan Wall (45) and Ivan Chittenden (64), prompting a Garda inquiry to prepare a file for the Cork City Coroner.
Almost a month after Ironman of Florida threatened legal action against Triathlon Ireland (TI) over conflicting claims about the race, the two groups have clashed again over a separate investigation commissioned by the Irish governing body for the sport.
In a Friday statement similar to a Thursday circular issued to TI members, the Irish body complained Ironman had a “different stance” in relation to an “independent investigation” by accountants Grant Thornton that it had commissioned.
Ironman quickly dismissed such claims, saying it twice told TI in writing of its willingness to participate and had “reached out” to Grant Thornton.
Triathlon Ireland said: “Having initiated our own internal investigation as the national governing body, that process has been frustrated by Ironman’s refusal to provide basic information and documentation.”
TI has now appointed Grant Thornton to conduct an independent investigation, it added. “TI had wished for the independent investigation to be a collaboration with Ironman and, regrettably, Ironman appears to have a different stance.
“We hope that Ironman will reflect in the coming days and ultimately decide to fully co-operate as an organisation with the independent investigation, including providing basic information and documentation.”
However, Ironman said it told TI in clear terms that it would participate.
“Ironman would like to state formally that in separate written correspondence to Triathlon Ireland dated the 12th and the 18th September 2023, Ironman clearly communicated to Triathlon Ireland our willingness to participate and co-operate as an organisation with this proposed independent investigation and Ironman would be happy to make any relevant personnel available to meet with Grant Thornton,” the group said.
“Furthermore, Ironman has proactively reached out to Grant Thronton in this regard.”
Asked about that Ironman statement, TI said: “While Ironman may state that they may be willing to make any relevant personnel available through their legal team, so far they are not willing to share basic written information or documentation and we are hoping this stance will change.”
The exchanges point to deepening divisions after Ironman emphatically rejected TI’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”. A sanction for a triathlon is a form of official permit, with insurance implications for contestants.
The two groups continue to set out conflicting accounts of the circumstances in which the race began at 7.20am on Sunday, August 20th.
In a private report to Cork County Council on September 8th, Ironman said its first indication that Triathlon Ireland would not sanction the race was when TI’s technical delegate asked to meet Ironman’s race director at 11.34am.
“This was the first suggestion to Ironman that Triathlon Ireland might withhold sanction for the event, which Triathlon Ireland had approved formally and by the presence, engagement and actions of its officials since their arrival at [6am],” the Ironman report said.
Such assertions conflict with the Thursday circular to TI members in which chief executive Darren Coombes said TI’s technical official told Ironman at 6.20am about “safety concerns” with the swim route.
“The TI technical official specifically referenced the imminent high tide and very strong current as the reasons for his direction to alter the swim route for the safety of the participants. This would shorten the distance and ensure the participants swam with the current,” Mr Coombes said.
“The Ironman event director refused to change the swim route. The TI technical official then told the Ironman event director that he was not prepared to sign the race permits.”
The circular added: “It is extremely concerning to TI and our community, that a major event organiser would not respect or adhere to the decisions of our technical officials.”
In its report, Ironman said the “The [TI] technical delegate gave no indication that he was concerned that the route as chosen would negatively affect the safety of the swim, nor jeopardise sanctioning of the event, nor did he revisit the matter with the event director.”
Ironman said its event director did not know who the TI technical delegate was, other than that he was with TI. The Ironman event director told the TI official that Ironman’s critical incident team “had decided to proceed with the course that was already set based on the considered recommendation of the swim safety team”.
The Ironman report added: “The only reason given by the Triathlon Ireland technical delegate was that Ironman had not acted upon his suggestion regarding the change to the swim route. In its statement following the event, however, Triathlon Ireland attributed the decision to adverse weather conditions.”