In a surprising move, the Spanish Federation of American Football, FEFA, has sent out a letter inviting countries in Europe with national teams to participate in an Open European Challenge tournament in Madrid, Spain between July 29 and August 6, 2018.
With the likely commitment of France and Austria to the other European championship tournament which also includes Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Great Britain and is slated to take place more or less during the same week, that would not seem to leave as many “tier 1 or 2” nations to compete. The deadline for entrees is April 1, 2018.
Interestingly, the letter states that IFAF Europe would support the initiative. This is a puzzling inclusion since IFAF Europe officially falls under the jurisdiction of IFAF and the situation as to who is IFAF still remains technically unresolved.
It would seem that the timing of this tournament, should it take place, is aimed at coinciding with the already planned tournament.
However, the question is who would attend?
Apart from Team Germany and Spain who would be obvious candidates, a number of other countries who were supporters of the “IFAF Paris” faction could well show interest. The Dutch Lions have been active in recent years although did not play in 2017. Belgium’s national team has also played a number of games every year for the past four years.
According to the board of the American Football Federation of the Netherlands (AFBN), however, they will have to take stock of the situation at the Team Holland meeting scheduled for March 11, 2018, before making any decision. As mentioned, another likely candidate would be Belgium and the Belgian Barbarians. However, general manager Christophe Olenaed feels that it is too soon. The departure of head coach Lee Rosky in December 2017 has left them with a vacancy that has still not been filled and his organization is not fond of a tournament format:
“It’s a conviction that tournament based formulas strain players, without adequate recovery time. We welcome of course all initiatives to play international games, but this is not our preferred format. I also think we have to focus on the restructuring process of the Barbarians first, no use in taking on something we can’t manage now.”
With the Polish top league having split into two with five of the top seven teams on their own, it would seem unlikely that a Team Poland team could be assembled at this point. The Italians, Swiss, Serbians, Czech Republic, Hungarians, Croatians and Russians have all played international games on a semi-regular basis over the past few years. Indications are though that Italy and Serbia would be unlikely to participate. Team Switzerland is a possible participatn according to one Swiss official, but a decision would have to be made with the coaches, and finances arranged.
There is no question that international tournaments are vital to the growth and development of American football.
Nevertheless, how well this initiative will be received at a time when international relations in the American football community are fragile, remains to be seen.