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Commonwealth Games: Ruling body explains NI gymnasts’ exclusion

Northern Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan has been told he may have to renounce the Irish nationality on his gymnastics licence if he wants to defend his Commonwealth Games title.

His team-mates Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer have been given the same direction by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG).

The FIG has banned all three from this summer’s Games in Birmingham. It has issued the ban because they have represented Ireland at international tournaments.

It says gymnasts “must have a valid FIG license of the national federation they represent” – suggesting it does not consider an Irish licence valid to represent Northern Ireland.

The decision to ban the trio 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 FIG has offered two options to resolve the dispute – one of which is for the gymnasts to change the nationality from Irish on their FIG licence.

Its second suggestion is that the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), the event organiser, removes the relevant gymnastics competitions from the FIG’s calendar.

McClenaghan won Northern Ireland’s only gold medal of the 2018 Commonwealth Games, taking the pommel horse title on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Many athletes within Northern Ireland’s squad for the Games – expected to consist of around 90 competitors – represent Ireland at international level, which they have been allowed to do across the sporting world as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

The FIG is the only governing body of a sport at the Commonwealth Games to have barred Northern Irish athletes who have represented Ireland.

In a statement released on Friday, the FIG said it had told Gymnastics Ireland in 2017 that Irish registered competitors would not be able to take part in the Commonwealth Games.

Gymnastics Ireland has responded by indicating that it was involved in discussions that allowed Irish-registered gymnasts to compete at the 2018 Games.

The Republic of Ireland does not compete at the Games, having officially left the Commonwealth in 1949.

Explaining its rejection of the request from McClenaghan, McAteer and Montgomery to compete in Birmingham, the FIG said: “The main rationale for this decision is a violation of the FIG Statutes and rules: gymnasts taking part in any international competition sanctioned by the FIG must have a valid FIG license of the national federation they represent.

“In 2017, the FIG had already informed Gymnastics Ireland, along with British Gymnastics, in writing, that gymnasts and judges under the IRL [Ireland] national federation registration with the FIG were not eligible for the Commonwealth Games.

“The FIG realises the challenges this situation brings for all stakeholders and suggested the following options: The first option would be to remove the competition from the FIG calendar of registered competitions, at the request of the CGF.

“The second option would be for the athletes to change their FIG license nationality registration. The FIG awaits an official decision on the options suggested.

“In the meantime, the FIG will not make any further comments.”

In response to the FIG’s statement, Gymnastics Ireland said that, when this issue had cropped up in the past, it had written to the world governing body in support of Northern Ireland’s gymnasts and officials.

A solution for the 2018 Games allowed gymnasts with Irish licences to take part, but not officials, it said.

Gymnastics Ireland added that it had written to the FIG’s president and secretary general to support the claims of McClenaghan, Montgomery and McAteer to take part in Birmingham, and was awaiting a reply.

The statement added: “Historically the FIG has always supported the rights of the citizens of Northern Ireland and gymnasts with Irish FIG licences to participate in CWG events.

“As per our letter, we have requested that the FIG continues with the supportive position that they have previously taken and grants permission for the gymnasts/officials in question to represent Northern Ireland at the upcoming 2022 Commonwealth Games.

“We request the FIG makes this a formal policy position moving forward to avoid any future issue.”

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