In the recent discussion prompted by Rory McIlroy’s announcement that he hopes to compete for Ireland at the next Olympics one important fact was overlooked – that many sportsmen and women do not have the opportunity to make such a decision.
In sports like rowing, cycling and boxing, sportsmen and women from this part of the United Kingdom have to compete under the Irish tricolour on the world’s biggest sporting stage unless they are affiliated with a club in Great Britain.
In November 2012 TUV ensured that the issue of sectarianism in boxing reached the floor of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Jim Allister’s amendment, which condemned the treatment of Sandy Row Amateur Boxing Club and called for the formation of a Northern Ireland Amateur Boxing Association, forced the powers that be to face up to two key issues – sectarianism and the right of people from Northern Ireland to represent the UK at the Olympics.
The publication of a report by the Independent Working Group Examining Boxing in Ulster in December of last year not only completely vindicated Sandy Row’s claims that sectarianism is a major problem in boxing but also highlighted the inability of boxers from Northern Ireland to fight under the Union Flag at the Olympics. They found that “the nationality issue in the Olympics is a nettle that needs to be grasped” not just when it comes to boxing but also in relation to other sports.
The success of sports people like Richard and Peter Chambers, Alan Campbell and Wendy Houvenaghel – all of whom have won Olympic medals competing under the Union Flag – should be something everyone in Northern Ireland can aspire to and it should be something they are able to do without having to be affiliated to a training base outside Northern Ireland.
To date the Sports Minister has shown no willingness to help British citizens from this part of the UK represent their nation on the international stage but it is an issue TUV will continue to campaign on.