The Tánaiste (Irish deputy PM) Leo Varadkar has called on the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) to overturn its decision to ban three Northern Irish gymnasts from this summer’s Commonwealth Games.
Defending pommel horse champion Rhys McClenaghan and team-mates Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer were told they could not represent NI as they compete for Ireland in international events.
“This decision is wrong,” Varadkar said on Twitter.
“I hope FIG will reconsider.”
The decision has prompted outcry from many in Irish sporting circles with Commonwealth Games NI accusing the FIG of “completely disregarding” the Good Friday Agreement, which states that people in Northern Ireland can consider themselves British or Irish.
“The Good Friday Agreement provides unique status for people in Northern Ireland. It’s based on the idea that you have the right to be Irish, British or both and be accepted as such,” continued Varadkar.
Many athletes within Northern Ireland’s squad for the Games – which is expected to be comprised of around 90 competitors – represent Ireland at international level.
The FIG is the only sporting governing body with Commonwealth Games participation to have made such a ruling.
NI Sports Minister Deirdre Hargey echoed the sentiment of Varadkar, adding that she will be contacting the FIG directly to request that they overturn the decision.
“It’s a disgraceful decision and I think we have three outstanding athletes that are now left distraught,” Hargey said.
“I’m contacting the federation asking them to overturn their decision as soon as possible.
“I think it’s really concerning. It flies in the face of how these Games have been ran in the past.
“It seems that the FIG are the outlier in terms of the decision they have made. I hope they come to their sense, overturn the decision as soon as possible and then these athletes can focus on getting ready for these Commonwealth Games.”