Governing body is rocked by multiple allegations of ‘feis fixing’
Irish-dancing judges accused of ‘fixing’ competitions have been allowed to continue overseeing major competitions, the Irish Independent can reveal.
An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG), the prestigious global body that governs Irish dancing, has this week been rocked by what is believed to be its largest ever alleged cheating scandal.
It has seen some of the most successful and well-regarded Irish dance teachers and schools accused of ‘fixing’ competitions for their own students.
The CLRG – the largest and oldest Irish dancing body in the world – has declined to clarify if judges accused of cheating will oversee upcoming competitions.
Families who have already paid hundreds and thousands of euro for flights, accommodation, costumes, wigs and entrance fees have been left in dismay, as they don’t know if their children will be dancing in a fair competition.
The CLRG this week announced that it had appointed a former judge to oversee an investigation into the cheating allegations.
It is understood that, in July, screenshots of text conversations showing 12 Irish dance teachers either asking for or offering to ‘fix’ competitions were handed over to the CLRG.
But despite this, a number of the teachers named in the texts have since been allowed to go on and adjudicate in major and minor competitions.
Separately, the Irish Independent has seen more screenshots – which have not yet been shared with the CLRG – which appear to implicate at least another six dance teachers.
The teachers, some of whom are based on the island of Ireland, were both asking for and offering to ‘fix’ feiseanna. In one case, a dance teacher and a competition judge appeared to be exchanging sexual favours for higher scores.
The CLRG said that its ethics committee had “received allegations, with supporting documentation, of several grievous breaches of our Code of Conduct.”
It said: “Such unethical behaviour cannot and will not be tolerated by this organisation.”
The CLRG also said that, due to the “potential extent” of the allegations, it had hired a former Court of Appeal judge “to oversee and supervise the immediate investigation into these matters.
“They will have full and open access to the resources and records of the CLRG.
“The process will no doubt be difficult and arduous – but this grossly unethical behaviour must be eliminated from our competitions, from dance schools and from governing organisations.
“An Coimisiún regards such breaches to be gross misconduct. Any registered member found to be engaged in such practices will be subject to due and full process under our published disciplinary procedures,” said the statement from the organisation, which is headquartered in Dublin.
“This process has already started, and the principles of natural justice apply. To ensure the integrity of the process and until it is complete, no further comments will be made.”
Irish dance teachers adjudicate dance competitions, from feiseanna to major events like the All-Irelands and the World Irish Dancing Championships.
It is understood that one of the dance teachers alleged to have been involved in the current scandal had previously been accused of interfering with scores at competitions.
In another case, texts show one teacher begging a judge to help make sure that their student wins in competition the next day.
“I really need your help and friendship tomorrow. I am really praying [student] will win. I need your help for this to happen, please.”
The dance judge warns it would be difficult to avoid giving top marks to another champion dancer, but instead suggests keeping 25 marks between the teacher’s student and another competitor.
Records for the same competition on the same day show the judge in question tied the champion dancer and the student with top points, while also keeping 25 points between the student and her next closest competitor.
The CLRG is regarded internationally as the guardian of Irish dancing.
In response to a number of queries from the Irish Independent, it said it was “regrettable the matter has been aired in public now, lest it compromises CLRG’s own investigations into the matter.”
They said: “We are aware of allegations against a number of members circulating on social media. Allegations without evidence are simply that – allegations.
“All complaints to Coiste Faire are treated on a confidential basis, pending investigation and possible disciplinary action.
“It is unfortunate that somebody has chosen to break that confidentiality, which may deter complaints in relation to these or future allegations of wrongdoing.”
There is no mention in the texts of money being exchanged.
Current and former Irish dancing teachers and competitors, who spoke to the Irish Independent on the condition of anonymity, said that a school with a reputation for success can generate more in fees.
The Irish Independent also attempted to contact the 18 dance teachers who are identified in the screenshots. One dance teacher responded and claimed that this newspaper was “definitely mistaken”.
After the Irish Independent sent back screenshots of a conversation showing the same teacher discussing ‘feis-fixing’ for their students, the teacher stopped responding.
The Irish Independent has also spoken with numerous parents of children who compete in feiseanna throughout Ireland.
They spoke of unusual scoring patterns at competitions, and cosy relationships between dancing teachers and judges.
One woman said she had made the painful decision to withdraw her daughter from competitions after 10 years.
“My child danced with CLRG for 10 years, since she was aged four. It all started off very innocently. We attended feises and won plenty.
“By the time she was aged seven, she was competing in the open championships and was absolutely loving it.
“In 2014, we travelled to a major competition being held in the UK. It was eye-opening, to say the least.
“There was a reception party held on the first night, where teachers and adjudicators socialised together.
“It was a fun trip with our dancing school – but we were a small school with no adjudicator, so none of our kids did very well. I could see straight away that you had to dance for a particular school to do well in this game.
“We returned home from an expensive weekend once, and my husband said: ‘It’s a cult, we may as well throw money down the toilet.’ But my daughter loved dancing, so we continued.
“Every year we were spending at least €15,000. My daughter practised every day, but we soon realised that no matter how hard she worked or how talented she was, there were certain kids she would never beat.
“My daughter would cry on way home from competitions, feeling she danced better than those placed ahead of her. And she was right.
“I had to explain to her – at eight years old – about the politics of it all. It broke my heart.
“Looking back, I should have pulled the plug years ago.
“The teachers congregate at the bar at the end of the day at major competitions to celebrate their success – while broke parents console their disappointed kids. It all felt so wrong.”