Interview with IFAF New York President Richard MacLean

When Richard MacLean was voted in as the new president of the International Federation of American Football’s (IFAF) New York faction last September, he was not sure what he was getting himself into. The organization is embroiled in a vicious war with the so-called IFAF Paris faction for control of international American football.

Whatever that means.

To put all of this in perspective, the war was triggered by the cancellation of the 2015 IFAF World Championships that were to be held in Stockholm, Sweden.

Since July 2015, the “governing body” of international American football has been divided down the middle. Since the walkout at the 2015 IFAF Congress in Canton, Ohio of an undetermined number of delegates in support of Tommy Wiking, who had been ousted by the sitting board at the time after promising to resign, the nations who play American football throughout the world have been at an impasse.

In the past 18 months progress on an international scale has seemingly slowed to a halt. Neither side of the split has agreed to concessions. Tournaments that were at one time the flagships of IFAF, such as the various world championships and the upcoming 2018 European championships, are in jeopardy. Countries like Canada, the United States, JapanMexico, Great Britain and Finland lead a large group of nations that have begun seeking out allies to play against.

Similarly, members of the Wiking-led IFAF Paris faction are restricting their play to likeminded foes. Germany, France, Ireland, Spain, Holland and Belgium and nations with burgeoning federations like Kuwait and Costa Rica are attempting to organize tournaments with diluted competition.

Is there a solution in the near future?

We sat down with MacLean to get his thoughts. He has a highly successful background as a football player, coach and executive in Canada and now hopes to bring structure and order to the world’s governing body for amateur football, a task which seems, at least at this point, almost impossible.

American Football International: How long have you been involved in football?

Richard MacLean: I have been involved in football for over 30 years, ten as a player (high school, university and professional (CFL)) and 20 years as a coach and administrator. I was President of Football Nova Scotia for over 10 years and President of Football Canada for three.

AFI: How long have you been involved at the international level?

MacLean: I have been involved in IFAF for three years now.

AFI: IFAF is in shambles. What caused this?

MacLean: Basically I feel not creating a transparent self-sustaining structure with a solid strategic plan based on developing the federation.

AFI: What is being done to rectify the situation?

MacLean: I am calling for a total restructure of the organization from statutes to operating procedures.

We will be creating a strategic plan that focuses on building this organization properly and from the ground up. Our goals must be clear and agreed upon by members. We have no place for division, doing your own thing or creating silos. If your goals aren’t the same as the federations then you have no reason to be a part of the federation. Our goals will focus on growing the sport of football and building capacity within the federation. Programs for creating capacity within coach, athlete and official training plus building competitions that matter and that can be self-sustaining will drive the strategic plan.

AFI: Does football need an international governing body?

MacLean: Of course, there are very few sports if any without international federations.

As football begins to become a globally played sport the need for a well-structured federation also grows. Athletes from around the world need to be developed and more importantly high performance athletes need a clear path to be transitioned from other sports into football and without a strong international federation to help create a pathway for development this will remain hit or miss for athletes as it is now.

AFI: How much influence does the NFL have over ‘IFAF NY’?

MacLean: I don’t know what IFAF NY is actually. That being said, having dealt with the NFL for many years as President of Football Canada they don’t try to influence us, they just want to promote their product and as a company that protects their brand they need to fully see that anyone they partner with is solid and secure in their mission and that the partnership will highlight the NFL positively. That can’t happen given this mess.

Mark Waller spoke at the congress and he said that they (the NFL) want us to become a functioning sport federation, one they could potentially partner with but unfortunately at this point in time as far as I am concerned we haven’t created a solid enough federation for them to want to be involved in. But, you will have to ask the NFL about that as I can’t speak for them.

Obviously, I feel the NFL should become one of our strongest external partners but as I said we have to get our house in order before that will ever happen.

AFI: Can a ruling from CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) resolve the situation?

MacLean: The CAS ruling will give us a clear path forward and an opportunity to start again. That’s all it does, it creates a point in time to restart the federation on solid terms with countries willing to do this for the betterment of football internationally. Obviously there will be pain, some countries will remain wanting to be left out and some people within those countries will really feel let down by their leaders. I feel terrible for people that just want to play football.

AFI: What is the future of IFAF?

MacLean: The only future is to create a strong structure of countries that want to develop football. That is what an international federation does and that is what we are doing. As long as I am involved in the federation we will operate from strength in common goals and plan for a successful future. The countries that are also united in this goal will follow our lead and become united to do what is takes to build the sport.

Editor’s note: An invitation was also sent to Tommy Wiking, president of IFAF Paris, to do a similar interview. It was politely declined.

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.