Opinion: BAFA’s withdrawal from IFAF will cause irrefutable damage

The British American Football Association, BAFA, has decided to remove the Great Britain U19 and U17 teams from the IFAF competition. This decision has been thrust upon the program with very little care or consideration for the staff who give their time and energy to the system. To be clear, this was BAFA’s decision, not the people who truly organized the program. This very difficult scenario will unfold over the next few years as we can see how they chose to approach this.

Today I wanted to highlight the potential paths the team could take and the positives and negatives that could follow if BAFA continues with this approach. Many more negatives are prevalent as of now, but let’s get straight into it.

The first option is to organize multiple games a year with teams within the top echelon of European youth football. The immediate problem with this approach is the obvious lack of results playing in Group B of European competition over the last few years. The idea of the European group system is to incentivize the best teams to get promoted to play the best countries in Europe so that there is not an abundance of blowouts and one-sided competition. If the Great Britain team chooses to pick their competition schedule and attempt to play the teams in central and northern countries, they will have a rude awakening unless they bring in the entire NFL Academy. Speaking of which, the national program was already an unattractive proposition to the Academy athletes, now without a transparent structure or plan going forward they cannot expect division one potential players to risk their health and educational opportunities to play for the country. Vinnie Maxfield, Seb Harris, and Casper Harker were very few to ever come into the program when they played in the European Championship in 2022. How can Great Britain expect elite prospects such as Meshach Arthur, Akram Elnagmi, and Bitanga Kalyata to suit up for them without any chance of playing in a structured, competitive, and professionally conducted environment against top international talent?

Akram Elnagmi, #72

“British football is incredibly far behind its European counterparts and withdrawal from the IFAF keeps us in our little underdeveloped bubble. The people who play this sport at a high level in this country thirst for competition- leaving the IFAF is taking away competition and taking away those elite guys.” – Anonymous elite prospect

Continuing from the likelihood that the NFL Academy will be a pool of inaccessible prospects, the actual production of talent within the country is predicted to nosedive over the coming years. The declining product on offer will lead to fewer players willing to travel long distances to individual practices, thus fewer players will be discovered on the international stage. Many players have been recruited from the international team because of their performances either through the NFL Academy or the Filton Pride over the years. These instances will likely also be in the declining numbers. These athletes have been robbed of valuable experiences in both life and football, the country does not have an 11-player league, which is a very hotly contested topic that won’t be solved due to infighting and coaching disagreements, and the international experience is for many players the first time they actually compete in a real football game.

Removing the football aspect of the decision for a moment, the actual travel, game, practice, and relationships made while playing for Great Britain are core memories for many athletes, including myself from 2018. These carry on to professional European football or life outside of football as well. This is a factor that has been massively ignored by BAFA. This also ignores the staff of the Great Britain team who have families and careers but still dedicate their time to developing Great Britain’s next generation. These individuals are excellent people, many of whom I have worked and talked with regularly. Sadly, BAFA has shown no regard for these people either in their decision.

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“The IFAF tournament was such a great experience, not only did it help me develop immensely as a player, but also allowed me to forge lifelong memories and make close long lasting friendships with other players in the UK American Football community. I think withdrawing from IFAF and robbing players of these experiences is going to prove harmful for the development of UK American football” – Former Great Britain athlete

A positive that comes with freedom of schedule could be the possibility of playing more regular games with more teams every year. Europe’s Elite has Great Britain ranked as the 8th U19 team in Europe. This would, hypothetically, open them up to competition with the likes of Czechia, Spain, Belgium, and other teams with rising youth teams like Poland, Hungary, and Holland. However, these are exactly the teams they would have been expected to play if they remained in IFAF. The question becomes, how can we convince these teams to play Great Britain without any incentives, reputable increase in European standings, and with their calendar having the IFAF games already organized? To that question, I have no answer. If they do not have this answered as soon as possible, we may go years without seeing an actual game from the program.

Emotional topic

Overall, this is a very emotional topic for me and many others who are seeing a massive step back from the foundations that have been laid down over the years. What BAFA is doing feels short-sighted, unproductive, and detrimental to the growth of the game. There are incredibly few reasons why this should be done and all are outweighed by the negatives. Sadly, this may be the last we see of a competitive Great Britain team for quite some time.