THE promoter trying to put together a high profile pre-season soccer tournament in Thomond Park has blasted the Football Association of Ireland’s stubborn refusal to sanction the tournament as ‘illegal’ and ‘shocking’.
Damien O’Brien, who runs the company Iconic Worldwide Events who have put the tournament that was to feature Chelsea, Celtic and two other leading European teams together, has told the Limerick Leader that the FAI’s refusal to sanction the soccer cup is “shocking”.
“The FAI won’t sanction it and is crazy and actually illegal what they are doing, they are using their dominant position as a governing body to block any competition. So we are going to court with them,” claimed the businessman, who is from Ennis but has Limerick grandparents.
“This is shocking. It is worth millions - a four year deal has been signed and we have 168 territories that have bought the television rights to it,” claimed O’Brien, whose company runs the television show Football’s Next Star, which is broadcast in more than 50 countries.
“ESPN are the host broadcaster - it will be on Fox in America and Australia, Sky in Asia, South Africa - it is all over the world. It would put not just Thomond Park but the region on the map and help Irish tourism as well,” he said.
Repeated attempts to contact the FAI were unsuccessful this week, and indeed since the Limerick Leader revealed that soccer fans were set to miss out on seeing Champions League winners Chelsea play in the lucrative pre-season tournament in Thomond Park.
Several weeks ago one senior press officer with the FAI told this newspaper that the body’s focus was solely on Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine and that he knew “nothing of” a mooted pre-season soccer tournament.
The cup requires that the FAI provide sanction, but they have so far refused to do so, citing an agreement in place with Mr O’Brien’s company to run a similar competition in Dublin’s Aviva stadium.
“They have claimed that, but show me a copy of that agreement,” said Mr O’Brien. “Even if they had their tournament - which they don’t - but if they did, legally there is no reason why they can stop us having one in Thomond Park. In the UK probably 200 pre-season friendlies happen every year, why can’t we have two in Ireland?”
Thomond Park boss John Cantwell said last week that the stadium’s management were ‘in limbo’ as a result of the FAI’s stance.
“We have pushed it as far as we could,” said Mr Cantwell.
“We have heard nothing, no further communications from the FAI on the matter, which is obviously disappointing,” admitted the Thomond Park boss.
Mr O’Brien, who has appealed to government ministers and local politicians to step into the row, now admits he must look at offers to take this cup abroad.