Dublin’s US College Football Classic row goes to arbitration

The sport’s governing body in Ireland has concerns about insurance for the event

Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert catches the ball in the end zone for a touchdown in the last American Football college game played in the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The Irish American Football Association (IAFA) has initiated arbitration proceedings against the organisers of the Aer Lingus College Football Classic between Boston College and Georgia Tech, due to take place at the Aviva stadium on September 3rd.

The IAFA, a government funded body, has voiced concerns about insurance surrounding the event and they are seeking payment of €14,000 in legal fees from Irish American Events Ltd (IAEL), the company set up by businessmen John Anthony and Padraic O'Kane in May 2015 to bring the fixture to Dublin, after they outbid the GAA.

That decision led to GAA director general Paraic Duffy sending an acrimonious letter to Paschal Donohoe, then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Duffy sought confirmation that €650,000 in public money was provided to help the College Football game go to the Aviva stadium, instead of Croke Park.

The IAFA case, taken by Leman solicitors, will go before Just Sport Ireland (JSI), an independent dispute resolution service.


Despite seeking equipment and technical assistance from IAFA, the IAEL solicitors wrote to the governing body this week to state they do not recognise their jurisdiction.

"Following a favourable decision we would then go to the High Court to have the decision endorsed," said IAFA secretary Cillian Smith.

The IAFA are refusing to sanction the game.

In 2010 the Limerick FC versus Barcelona game was cancelled after the FAI decided not to sanction the pre-season friendly in Thomond Park.

“Without the sanction of the governing body it would be a rogue event so can the [Irish] government really support it?” Smith asked.

Taoiseach endorsed

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has already endorsed the Football Classic by attending the launch last April.

An estimated €56 million will be raised for the event partners and tourism sector as almost 20,000 Americans are expected to travel to Dublin.

“The IAEL haven’t paid the cost they have run up [€14,000],” claimed Smith.

“They have not complied with the main game’s insurance and indemnification requirements.

“For the [three high school] games in Trinity College there are similar insurance issues as well as non-compliance with child protection. They are yet to confirm public liability insurance . . .They have not demonstrated that they can run a safe event,” Smith added.

O'Kane, one of two directors of Irish American Events Ltd, in response to these claims, when contacted by The Irish Times, stated: "We have no concerns about the game going ahead. There are close on 20,000 visitors coming to Ireland for that week.

“We can assure you 100 per cent, and I can be quoted on this, that the game will be run to the highest levels of health and safety that are available. Insurances will all be correctly in place.

“The six high schools that are coming are high profile high schools from the United States. Do you think their parents are going to let them go on a tour to Europe if they weren’t properly insured and going with the right people?

“We go to another level to make sure vetting is done with people coming in from the United States and in Ireland. We do that as standard.”

O'Kane confirmed that the Aviva stadium, Dublin City Council and Fáilte Ireland will want to see the outstanding insurance policy before the game will be allowed to go ahead. The IAEL have until June 30th to do so.


The IAFA, as the internationally recognised governing body of American football in Ireland, also has concerns about being liable in the event of serious injury to any of the touring high school students.

“The inability of the event organisers to provide an indemnification to the IAFA could potentially have fatal consequences for the sport in Ireland,” Smith continued.

“In this country, the national governing body is routinely named on third party claims. Neither the event organiser nor the NGB has any control over who a third party plaintiff may decide to sue... Consequently the IAFA could be insolvent. Even with well run events, claims will occur from time to time.”

Boston College against Georgia Tech is scheduled to be televised live globally on ESPN with the winner awarded the inaugural Keogh-Naughton trophy.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent