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Pandemic prevents college football fixture from taking place in Dublin for second year in a row

Illinois and Nebraska will remain Stateside for the fixture, with talks ongoing regarding future editions in Dublin.

Georgia Tech players celebrate with the Keough-Naughton trophy after the 2016 fixture in Dublin.
Georgia Tech players celebrate with the Keough-Naughton trophy after the 2016 fixture in Dublin.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THE UNIVERSITY OF Illinois and local organisers in Ireland have confirmed that the 2021 edition of college football’s Aer Lingus Classic will not take place at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium and will be played instead in the United States, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

However, all four American universities that were scheduled to play the opening fixture of the college football season in Ireland in 2020 and 2021 as part of a five-year series of fixtures (Notre Dame, Navy, Illinois and Nebraska) “remain committed to fulfilling the fixture at the earliest possible opportunity”, according to a press release issued on Wednesday night.

The announcement comes “after months of consultation between the Irish government, medical authorities and key representatives from both Illinois and Nebraska [universities]“, the release said, “with all parties confirming their commitment to protecting the health and well-being of all involved during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Padraic O’Kane, director of organisers Irish American Events Ltd, said; “Whilst today’s announcement is another difficult blow for the Irish Hospitality and Tourism Industry, as organisers, we are fully engaged with our stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic and remain hopeful, that with the right support, we will be in a position to re-launch the Aer Lingus College Football five-game Series in the coming months.”

“We are at an advanced stage of negotiations with high-profile Universities for the 2022 and 2023 fixtures. However, the five-game series business model post-Covid-19 has additional costs and risks which we are currently working through with our public and private stakeholders and partners.”

O’Kane added that future editions of the annual fixture will have a role to play in Ireland’s post-Covid economic recovery, saying: “These games are ‘much more than a game’ and also bring academic, leisure and business events that run parallel with the game itself.

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“The games attract on average 25,000 American visitors to the country, staying on average seven nights, and the Illinois-Nebraska game alone was set to be worth an estimated €70 million to the Irish economy. Irish hoteliers will feel that considerable blow today as 105,000 bed nights booked for the game have been released across the country for the second year in a row. We are determined to start the series at the Aviva Stadium in 2022.”

Neil Naughton, Chairman of Aer Lingus College Football Classic commented: “It is desperately disappointing that it is necessary to cancel the 2021 Aer Lingus College Football Classic but public health must take precedent.

“These games offer huge publicity potential, practical economic benefits, and a genuine expression of the close ties between Ireland and the United States. The organisers are working to recommence the series from 2022 and I look forward to giving our visitors the welcome Ireland is so famous for.”

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