International Gymnastics body tells NI athletes to change Irish registration for Commonwealth games

The Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) has suggested that three gymnasts from Northern Ireland change their Irish registration in order to compete at the Commonwealth Games in July

NI gymnast Rhys McClenaghan and his two Northern Ireland teammates have been told they are ineligible to compete in the event this summer because they routinely represent Ireland in competitions overseen by FIG, the sport's governing body.

In a statement on Friday evening, FIG said that athletes had been informed in 2017 that those who represent Ireland at FIG events were not eligible for the Commonwealth Games.

"The FIG realises the challenges this situation brings for all stakeholders " the statement said, "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 licence nationality registration."

Rhys McClenaghan said on Friday that he feels like all of his hard work and dedication to gymnastics has been taken away from him after the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) barred NI's gymnasts from competing in the Commonwealth Games.

McClenaghan has been barred from defending his gymnastics title at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in a ruling that has been labelled as a “disgrace” and “wrong” by politicians.

The former Commonwealth gold medalist has spoken of his shock and disappointment at the decision, adding that he worried it would prevent young Northern Irish gymnasts from continuing with the sport.

"It must be so discouraging for them to see" said McClenaghan, "their local gymnasts being disallowed to compete for their country."

Last year, McClenaghan represented Ireland in the men’s pommel horse final at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

He won gold while representing Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

McClenaghan has urged FIG to consider the "unique circumstances" of athletics in Northern Ireland, and "to learn the gravity of the Good Friday Agreement."

The Good Friday Agreement enshrines the rights of citizens in Northern Ireland to identify as British, as Irish, or as both, and the 1998 peace treaty gives citizens the right to hold a British passport, an Irish passport, or both a British and an Irish passport.

Politicians north and south of the border have criticised the decision not to let Olympic gymnast Rhys McClenaghan and two other athletes compete in the upcoming Commonwealth Games.

Northern Ireland’s communities minister Deirdre Hargey slammed the decision by the FIG, and has written to the body to seek an immediate overturning of the decision.

Ms Hargey said: “The decision taken by the International Gymnastics Federation to exclude our athletes Eamon Montgomery, Ewan McAteer and Rhys McClenaghan from the Commonwealth Games is a disgrace.

“The announcement is ill-advised and does not respect the rights of our citizens.”

The Sinn Fein MLA added: “The timing of the announcement is something that I struggle to understand given that it is so close to the start of the Games.

"The athletes concerned have put their lives on hold and have dedicated months, if not years, to prepare to compete at the Birmingham Games.

“The decision of the federation has totally disregarded the detrimental impact that the decision will have on the athletes, their families and on the sport of gymnastics here.

“I have contacted FIG seeking an immediate overturn of this decision.”

It comes after Ireland’s deputy leader Leo Varadkar said that the decision was “wrong”.

“I hope FIG will reconsider. 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,” the Tanaiste tweeted.

Ireland MEP Sean Kelly also said he would be writing to the FIG to ask it to reconsider its ruling.

He said: “This decision flies in the face of logic and is against the spirit of sport, ignoring rights granted under the GFA.

“Others have proudly represented Ireland at the Olympics and NI at the Commonwealth Games.”

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