IFAF Europe attempts crackdown on CEFL clubs, federations; Austria defies stating “not possible”

Last week, American football clubs around Europe received a shock in the form of a statement issued by the new IFAF Europe.

In a reaction to the expansion of the Central European Football League (CEFL), IFAF Europe has taken aim at the CEFL. Undersigned by new IFAF Europe president Enrique Garcia de Castro, the statement titled ‘Sanctioning of Games and Competitions in Europe’ is designed almost exclusively to address this independent international tournament.

The statement begins;

  1. Any team and/ or any national federation that participates in an unsanctioned competition may be subject to disciplinary actions.

The statement goes on to threaten disciplinary actions against clubs and national federations, including financial penalties and even exclusion from European-wide competitions.

The last point drives home the gist of the document citing that the CEFL is not an IFAF (Paris) or IFAF Europe sanctioned event. The full statement can be found at the bottom of this article.

Over the past few weeks, seven American football clubs from six nations have been actively organizing and coordinating the 2017 edition of the 10-year-old international club tournament and now must decide how to move forward in light of these sanctions.

A League of Nations

The Central European Football League (CEFL) is a regional American football league. Initially the named Southeastern European League of American Football (SELAF) it featured teams from just Serbia and Slovenia, but was soon joined by teams from Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Turkey and now Bosnia and Herzegovina in the following seasons.

Founded in 2006, the CEFL was founded as a competition for low-budget American football clubs in smaller nations. It  aim was to give these clubs opportunity and exposure on the international level and to raise sponsorships for bigger European competitions. The CEFL is a non-governing body, and presents itself as offering a “cost effective platform for teams in the Central European region.” The CEFL relies on its members’ federation support for resources like referees and facilities.

Twelve teams competed in the 2016 CEFL season, which culminated in the CEFL Bowl X.  The current champions are the Graz Giants, who beat the Vukovi Beograd in CEFL Bowl 52-49 played on July 3rd 2016 in Graz, Austria.

The 2017 edition of the CEFL table grew in numbers in the wake of the dissolution of the IFAF Europe Champions League when new and former CEFL teams began to look for places to play American football internationally.

Austria rejects sanctions

Seven clubs have committed to playing in the CEFL in 2017. They are the Swarco Raiders (Austria), Triangle Razorbacks (Denmark), Budapest Cowbells (Hungary), Wroclaw Panthers (Poland), Vukovi Beograd (Serbia), Kragujevac Wild Boars (Serbia), and Koc Rams (Turkey).

For one federation, there is no question on how to move forward.

The Austrian federation firmly rejects the IFAF Europe sanctions as ‘not possible’. American Football Bund Österreich (AFBÖ) vice president Gregor Murth said this in a statement to AFI:

“The sanctioning of any league with participating teams from several federations who may be in different camps on the unsolved IFAF leadership issue is simply not possible today. The CEFL could only be sanctioned by both IFAFs or none. Any other constellation would again lead to teams being blocked for political reasons.”
Austria has re-committed to competing on the international stage, regardless the sanctions of the IFAF Europe now headed up by de Castro from Spain.

“The Austrian federation will stand to its promise to not block any team that is under our jurisdiction. We think that playing as many games as possible is always the right decision.”

 Murth continued, outlining how these sanctions are a symptom of the malfeasance of the IFAF Europe board installed at the IFAF Paris Congress last September.
“Before the new IFAF Europe was founded and the new board installed, the conflict was contained by the old board inside IFAF and was not passed on to member federations or teams. At that time a lot of them thought that they just have to wait a little for the storm to pass. But now the situation is different. The new IFAF Europe leadership denies that there is a problem at all. So they think that they can rule with absolute power. So all of a sudden the federations and their teams are targeted with requests to comply to one side and are threatened with penalties and suspensions. Not exactly trust inducing measures.”
Regarding the future for American football in Europe, Murth urges European federation leaders to take action.
“We have found many federations in Europe who are not satisfied with the situation and believe that the number will grow. The stakes are especially high for many federations who host competitions. They do not know who will participate in their international tournaments. Having hosted several major tournaments we think that this situation is unacceptable. The leaders of all European federations need to find common ground as quickly as possible. Denial of the other side is a dead end street.”

 IFAF split = IFAF Europe split

Some of the the IFAF Paris and IFAF Europe sanctioned tournaments like the BIG6 and European Football League (EFL) have recently set their schedules. Last year’s largest international club competition, the 13-team IFAF Europe Champions League has failed to coalesce in the wake of political fallout of international American football in Europe.

For context, these sanctions are not delivered in a silo, but in fact just the latest salvo in the war for control of American football in Europe.

Born of the IFAF split at the 2015 World Championships in Canton, Ohio, these latest troubles stem for the formal sundering of the international federation body last September when two separate IFAF Congresses were held in New York and Paris on the same day. From this, two separate organizations moved forward under two different agendas.

Part of the agenda of the IFAF ‘Paris’ faction, led by Tommy Wiking, was the adoption of a set of new far-sweeping statutes and a new continental structure, hence the formation of a new IFAF Europe Continental Federation. As promised in an open letter prior to the Paris Congress, former IFAF Europe Vice-Chairman Gregor Murth (Austria) & Vice-Chairman, Goran Nisavic (Serbia) resigned in protest to the new statutes passed in Paris.

New appointments were made, led by Spanish federation president Enrique Garcia de Castro. The controversies continued as the positions of as many as five of the nine of members of the IFAF Europe Executive committee were alleged to have been misrepresented by members of the Paris Congress.

IFAF ‘Paris’ also suspended United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Denmark and Finland for violating IFAF anti-doping rules.

In addition, to the CEFL sactions, we recently explored how this split has diluted the European Junior Championships, Mens’ Senior European qualifers, the IFAF Europe Champions League and the Big6.

AFI has reached out to the IFAF Europe office, who did not provide any further comment but said an additional statement about this issue would soon be forthcoming addressing our questions and concerns.

The full statement from IFAF Europe is below.

John McKeon is a former professional and collegiate American Football player and coach now living and working in New York. His goal is to spread news, information, and opinion on the global growth of the sport he loves.