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Belfast weight-loss football leagues row over council funding

By Allan Preston

Published 12/10/2016

Logo used by the NI weight-loss league
Logo used by the NI weight-loss league

A football league in Belfast that helps men lose weight has been accused of putting misleading information on an application for council funding.

Leisure Leagues Northern Ireland was awarded funding by Active Belfast to start a league in the city in conjunction with Crusaders Football Club, which it claimed was endorsed by an English company, Man v Fat.

The application stated that the Belfast league would be advertised on the national Man v Fat website, and promotional video links were also posted on Leisure League NI's Facebook page.

Andrew Shanahan who runs Man v Fat - which has been featured on the BBC's One Show - has complained that Leisure Leagues NI was using his company's name without permission to get funding.

"The application clearly suggests a link between our company and Leisure Leagues which emphatically does not exist," he said.

"The marketing too uses our own materials to promote their league, again suggesting a connection which does not exist," he added.

Mr Shanahan said he had offered to endorse the Belfast league before requesting players, partners and funders were made aware there was no link.

He claimed he got no answer on two occasions. 

A spokesperson for UK Leisure Leagues' head office called it a "non-issue" and said a typo on the funding application was to blame.

"Our franchisee in Northern Ireland got some funding which was given not on the name of Man v Fat but on what he planned to do," he said.

"He should have used a different name, but he accidentally used Man v Fat.

"We are launching a Football v Fat website which is starting up in two months and is a trademarked logo, so there's no issue really.

"It really was just an error of wording. There was no intention to advertise it on the Man v Fat website.

"We've contacted Andrew Shanahan and said this was just a confusion of one word.

"This funding has been got legitimately and we support our franchisee in that."

He continued: "We've issued an apology, (but) now he wants our funding.

"Quite frankly, I think the money should stay in Northern Ireland and should not be taken to Andrew Shanahan's home town of Stoke. 

"He said to us very clearly he wants the funding. We're pretty angry about it actually."

Mr Shanahan called the response "riotous nonsense".

"How does he explain the multiple postings on Facebook which use our precise content and they intend to launch Football v Fat?" he asked. "Just for clarity - what we offered was to run the league they were advertising in Northern Ireland as an official Man v Fat Football league, not to steal the funding to Stoke. 

"I asked them to let their funding body and their players know that it had nothing to do with Man v Fat Football in case they were disappointed.  

"We have a proven track record of getting over 95% of players to lose weight and they have nothing as yet, other than copying what we're doing."

Mr Shanahan also pointed to a patent application to the Intellectual Property Office in May this year to register Football v Fat with a logo similar in look to Man v Fat.

A spokeswoman from Belfast City Council said she was unaware of any copyright infringement. "Active Belfast assessed the funding application in accordance with the agreed evaluation criteria," she added.

"At that time it was entirely unaware of any alleged copyright infringements, as this claim has only been brought to its attention. Any alleged infringement of intellectual property rights is not a matter for the council, which was merely dealing with a funding application."

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