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Tug-of-war club split apart over shoe row, court told

St Pat's members Hugh Conway, Nicola Conway and John Conway leaving court yesterday. Collins Courts

THE secretary of a leading Irish tug-of-war club has described how it has been "split apart" by a row over allegedly "illegal" running shoes worn by a rival English squad.

The High Court action against the Tug of War International Federation (TWIF) arises out of a decision by St Patrick's tug-of-war club in Hackballscross, Co Louth, not to compete because a team from Manchester was wearing allegedly "illegal" running shoes during the semi-finals of the World Indoor Championships in 2006.

The court will rule next month on an application to dismiss the Irish club's claim that it was wrongly disciplined for refusing to take part in the competition. The TWIF yesterday asked the court to dismiss St Pat's claim as frivolous.

Nicola Conway, secretary and member of the St Pat's club, told the High Court that members of its star team had to lose weight to enter the championships.

The club is facing legal costs of up to €20,000 if it loses its action against the TWIF and two officials -- honorary life president Co Koren and president Cathal McKeever.

"Sport is of immense significance, to its participants, as well as to society at large," Ms Conway told the court.

St Pat's was one of three semi-finalist teams that refused to "pull" at the international championships held in Killarney, Co Kerry in February 2006.

This followed complaints that members of a rival English tug-of-war squad were wearing "illegal" running shoes.

Kilroe from Manchester were accused of not wearing regulation shoes, prompting the three teams to ask the English competitors to change their shoes.

However, the team refused to do so and after a 45-minute stand-off, the other three teams -- including St Pat's -- all pulled out of the championship.

The refusal to compete led to St Pat's receiving a €1,000 fine and a year-long suspension from the Irish Tug Of War Association, which belongs to the TWIF.


St Pats, which has recently resolved its dispute with the Irish association, acceded to the initial sanction but claims that the TWIF "coerced" the Irish body into applying tougher sanctions, including a life-time ban for club members.

Yesterday, Ms Conway denied that the club was debarred from suing the TWIF because it had acceded to the initial fine and suspension. She claimed that the club only agreed to the sanctions in order to protect the Irish association from being expelled from the TWIF.

Such an expulsion would have meant that no Irish tug-of-war teams could compete internationally, she said.

The TWIF, which has its headquarters in Lucerne, Switzerland, has asked the High Court to throw the case out.

Last night, a spokesman for the Kilroe club would not comment on the controversy.

St Pat's is seeking a declaration that the TWIF and two of its officials acted outside of its powers and contrary to international tug-of-war rules when it allowed Kilroe to compete in non-regulation shoes.

The club also wants a High Court order restraining the international body from suspending or expelling the club and preventing it from taking part in national and international events.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy will give her ruling next month.

Irish Independent