American football is a sport of elegant strategy and violent collisions. Of brains and brawn. An engagement of the bright, strong, and proud. Clear eyes, full hearts anyone? The past 10 days in Canton we’ve seen athletes of these qualities gather near the hallowed Hall of Fame of the sport we love and battle for nothing more than the pride of representing their homeland.
That said, there was nothing elegant about this year’s International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Congress in Canton, Ohio as the fractured leadership mechanism seems to have continued to splinter.
Following what was a turbulent day of gridiron politics, IFAF’s press office and Facebook page announced a motion had passed to elect Roope Noronen as the new President of the International Federation of American Football.
Noronen is the President of Finland’s Suomen Amerikkalaisen Jalkapallon Liittro (SAJL) and would remain at the helm until the 2016 IFAF Congress, which will elect a President for a four-year term. Noronen has served as the federation’s Vice President for the past 12 years, and was unanimously elected by the delegates in attendance; attendance being the operative word.
A strange unfolding of events was set to challenge the veracity of this news throughout the day.
Before the 2015 IFAF Congress could begin, and notably before a roll was called, a large group of nations walked out of the meeting when resigned former IFAF & Swedish federation President Tommy Wiking was not permitted to take a seat among the Presidium, IFAF’s leadership. Wiking, as it has been reported, resigned his post earlier this year in the wake of Sweden reneging on its agreement to host the 2015 IFAF World Championship in Stockholm. It has also been reported that Wiking may be facing a criminal investigation in his native Sweden and took a leave of absence from IFAF several months ago.
The Congress walkout was led by Wiking, France federation President Michel Daum, Ireland federation President Michael Smith, and German federation President Robert Huber. The size and members of the departing delegation is unverified but is most likely between 16 and 22 and includes delegates from France, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, and Kuwait. It appears as though Huber and Wiking have reconciled their differences that were believed to have existed since 2008, when Huber was purged from the IFAF Executive Board during the IFAF Congress in Seville, Spain and Wiking led the IFAF move to replace Huber’s European Federation of American Football (EFAF) continental federation with IFAF Europe as recently as 2012.
After the walk-out, the remaining IFAF nations began to address the business at hand and the Congress elected Swedish delegate Minette Rogner, – ironically Wiking’s successor as President of the Swedish American Football Federation (SAFF) – as IFAF Secretary to serve on the IFAF Executive Board.
But during the meeting, the Twitter account ‘@IFAFofficial‘, a handle over which IFAF now claims it has no control, began to tweet out conflicting information that appeared to align with the aims of the federations that had walked out of IFAF Congress.
In a bizarre turn, the departed delegation seemed to have setup somewhere else on the grounds were holding their own elections for IFAF Presidium positions.
In an equally confusing statement, the Irish American Football Association (IAFA) announced on its website that Janice Ward had been elected to the IFAF Presidium. when it was in fact Rogner of Sweden who had been elected.
Two Congresses, One Hotel
Back in the original meeting hall, the 18th annual IFAF Congress continued their agenda and passed a number of motions.
It what seems like the most obvious reactive move to the controversy surrounding the cancelled Stockholm games, the Congress endorsed the implementation of new measures and the future revision of the IFAF statutes that provide greater transparency in all IFAF matters.
Other business announced by the IFAF Press Office to the media today includes the IFAF plan of action for 2016, presented by IFAF Managing Director Andy Fuller, and the Bahamas announced that it has submitted a proposal to host the 2016 IFAF Flag Football World Championship, which is played every two years.
The IFAF membership agreed to host the 2016 IFAF Congress on a date following the 2016 Olympic Games at a venue to be determined, but the rogue twitter account claimed France would be the venue.
These decisions were overseen and voted on by federation representatives of 19 nations who remained in the Congress; Australia, Argentina, Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Serbia, Sweden and the United States.
They then took a photo of their separate meeting at which it was claimed that delegates were present from Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, India, Thailand, Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
As mentioned earlier, the walk-out occurred before a roll was called, so no national tally can be verified. However, according to IFAF, 35 countries sent notice of attendance to the Congress and if, as the Wiking-Huber group claims, 22 countries voted for them, how is it that 19 countries remained and voted for Noronen? Something does not add up.
Also, if the Wiking-Huber group had a majority of the support, why then did they not simply stay and vote as per the IFAF bylaws. What prompted them to walk out and hold separate meetings?
And the biggest question, what does this mean for the future of IFAF on the eve of their premier event’s championship?
There are too many questions still to be answered.
Thankfully the IFAF battle returns to the football field on Saturday at the IFAF World Championship when Australia meets Korea (12pm), France and Mexico play for the bronze medal at 3.30pm and USA takes on Japan for gold at 7pm.
Only your action and voices will aid American football’s international growth!