How Wide Is The Rift Between Germany and IFAF?

It would seem at first glance that the recent announcement by the Irish American Football Association (IAFA) of their participation in the German Football League International (GFLI) Atlantic Cup tournament is another shot across the IFAF’s (International Federation of American Football) bow.

The press release announced that the Irish champions Belfast Trojans, Belgium’s title holders, the Ghent Gators, would participate alongside the Groningen Giants (Netherlands) and the Dudelange Steelers from Luxembourg. This was a tournament originally held by the old European Federation of American Football – EFAF – and all these countries took part then too.

This is intriguing, particularly on the heels of Germany’s decision to pull out of the 2015 World Championships due to the high costs now involved.

All this would seem to indicate that Germany is at serious odds with IFAF and the much of the rest of the international American football world. There is no question that IFAF and the AFVD – the German American Football Federation – have been at loggerheads off and on for many years.

 An Uneasy Alliance

The German federation once controlled the former European Federation of American FootballEFAF – and then came into conflict with IFAF when the international federation attempted to bring in a worldwide ruling body for American football.

EFAF felt that they had more or less governed football in Europe and done it well for such a long time that the entry of  IFAF Europe was an intrusion.

And that may very well be true, up to a point, but according to Carsten Dalkowski, Chairman of the GFL – the German Football LeagueGermany should not be painted as the villain here.

“We may be the most experienced country, and federation, in Europe in terms of developing football, governing and holding tournaments. We have invested enormous amounts not just in cash but also in man hours, to help grow the sport in Europe over the course of 20 odd years. To find that our experience and know how will be largely ignored in favor of younger, far less experienced federations is at times difficult to swallow. After all, newer federations have an entirely different focus than older, established associations, and different needs too.

However, we ultimately accept the democratic decision for IFAF to set up a governing body in Europe and we anxiously await any results of the new leadership. In the meantime, it allows us to continue as before provided that IFAF sanctions our events. That is what we are doing with the Atlantic Cup.”

(It should be pointed out that Dalkowski is not officially speaking on behalf of the AFVD).

Nevertheless, the name – GFL International – although purported to assist German teams participating in international events, seems to suggest more than just a passing interest in expanding Germany’s influence beyond just the European continent.  And the refusal of some countries to accept the new IFAF regime in Europe would seem to support this reasoning.

Cillian Smith, chairman of the Irish federation – IAFL – was blunt in his assessment of IFAF, IFAF Europe and the Champions League tournament:

“The IFAF Europe CL (Champions League) is not a realistic option for Irish clubs for a number of reasons, foremost of which is cost which is excessive given the benefits of participation and the tournament format. Also, we expect a European competition to be a step up from domestic competition in terms of organization, attendance, event standards etc. And lastly, the existing European competitions have a longer history and a successful track record.

Also, joining GFL International will also give Irish clubs access to the EFL in future years. The IAFA will now also be able to cooperate with the other GFL International countries in areas such as coaching and officiating.”

This would be a step away from IFAF and towards the GFL International.

However, Dalkowski is adamant about Germany’s sincerity.

“In forming GFL International and holding tournaments, clinics and conferences for players, coaches and officials, the German federation as well as the teams, is passing on its wealth of knowledge about the game and its experience and is simply acting in accordance with the Frankfurt Declaration.”

The Frankfurt Declaration

Looks can be deceiving however and IFAF does not seem to be spoiling for a fight. As the chairman of IFAF Europe Goran Nisavic points out, IFAF’s approach is now becoming that of live and let live, for the time being:

“Due to the Frankfurt Declaration and the agreement on the EFAF dissolution, federations were allowed to form their own international competitions in Europe if they apply for sanctioning to IFAF, fulfill sanctioning criteria and if they pay the same fee that they were paying previously. None of those competitions have applied for sanctioning so far and I hope they are intending to do so soon.

It is a great thing for football that we have lot of teams participating in international leagues and IFAF Europe intends to integrate all these teams in the future in the IFAF Europe organized competitions. We will not do this by force; teams have to see the benefits of playing IFAF Europe competitions and they will hopefully join us in the near future.”

Andy Fuller, Managing Director of IFAF, was even more diplomatic:

“There are opportunities for Federations to explore frameworks for competitive international games for clubs under the Frankfurt Declaration; the agreement which resolved the standing of EFAF. Federations have the opportunity to have these sanctioned by IFAF subject to a series of criteria, both operational and economic, being fulfilled.

We remain open to approaches from all parties on the subject of competition sanctioning with the  long-term objective being for all clubs across Europe to aspire to compete in competitions operated by IFAF Europe which provide the basis for effective continent-wide activity.‎”

It is unknown to AFI if the GFL International events have as yet been fully vetted and sanctioned according to the IFAF’s standards.

Nevertheless, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg are affiliating themselves with the new organization and, according to GFL International, France, Austria, Switzerland and Spain have all pledged some form of allegiance.

Admittedly, the Champions League is the newest tournament in Europe and glitches are bound to occur with a brand new organization. But with seven national champion teams participating, there is no questioning the quality of the competition. And with time, it will only get better. At this point though, IFAF and IFAF Europe do not need another battle as they are still a little shaky after the last one.

So, does this seem like an attempt to a resurgence to power in the guise of GFL International or is it simply one of the oldest, largest and most experienced federations simply taking steps to help right what they feel is a tilting ship?

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.