Gymnast Rhys McClenaghan has spoken of his huge disappointment at being told he will not be permitted to defend his pommel horse gold medal at this summer’s Commonwealth Games.
A ruling by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has determined that McClenaghan, Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer cannot compete for Northern Ireland.
Commonwealth Games NI described the decision as “reprehensible” and will challenge the ruling, which it says has been made because the gymnasts represent Ireland in FIG events.
Olympic finalist McClenaghan, from Newtownards in County Down, won Northern Ireland’s only gold at the 2018 Games on the Gold Coast, where Lisburn’s McAteer also competed.
“Being the current Commonwealth Games champion on the pommel horse and then to be told you’re not going to the event the next time round, it hits me hard and it hits my team-mates hard,” McClenaghan told BBC Sport NI.
“We all work so hard in the lead-up to these competitions and for a competition of this magnitude, it is one of the biggest ones for all of us, to be taken away from us like that is very disappointing.
“It has left my team-mates and I in limbo, we do not know if we are competing and that is not a very nice mindset to go into training with every day. You want a definitive date to work towards, it is very disruptive for that to be disrupted by the FIG like this.”
While disappointed at Thursday’s news, McClenaghan is still hopeful of the decision being overturned.
“The FIG are definitely alone in this decision because these decisions do not come up in other sports,” he added.
“I am hoping that the International Gymnastics Federation will realise that they do stand alone in this decision and hopefully that decision can be reviewed.
“I will continue to train as hard as I can and continue to work towards these Commonwealth Games, and my hope is to compete in the Games and retain the gold medal. It’s just a hoping game now.”
Decision ‘disregards Belfast/Good Friday Agreement’
In a statement, Commonwealth Games NI said “the FIG appear to have completely disregarded the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the unique situation pertaining to Northern Ireland. They are out of step with all of our other member sports.”
Commonwealth Games NI’s statement made the obvious point that Northern Ireland teams do not compete in FIG competitions, with gymnasts having the option to represent Great Britain or Ireland at international level.
“Historically, Team NI at all Commonwealth Games has included athletes across a range of sports who have chosen to represent either IRL or GBR at European Championships, World Championships and Olympic Games.
“We even have athletes within the same sport who have chosen different international performance pathways. This has always been respected and adds to the inclusive nature of Team NI at Commonwealth Games.”
A statement from the overall organising body of the Commonwealth Games, the Commonwealth Games Federation said it had been informed of the development and had attempted to find a solution, but seemingly without success to date.
“We fully appreciate the complex and sensitive nature of this matter and have done everything we can to find a solution, including facilitating urgent consideration by the FIG Executive Committee,” said the Commonwealth Games Federation.
“As an athlete-centred organisation, we share the disappointment of the affected athletes and gymnastics fans and are in discussions with Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland regarding the immediate implications and appropriate next steps.
“We are continuing to work in partnership with FIG on preparations for the gymnastics competition at Birmingham 2022.
“Moving forward, we plan to work with all stakeholders to conduct a full review of related eligibility criteria and processes.”
Sport Northern Ireland said that the FIG ruling “does not respect the unique circumstances or complexity of identity within Northern Ireland, and we fully support the Commonwealth Games NI in its efforts to have this decision overturned”.
“We will also be using our relationships with colleagues in Great Britain to ensure the wider sporting community recognises this decision serves the interests of no-one,” added a Sport NI statement.
The FIG has been been approached for comment.