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NI gymnast Rhys McClenaghan tells of heartbreak after ban on competing in Commonwealth Games


Rhys McClenaghan celebrates winning gold at the last Commonwealth Games in 2018

Rhys McClenaghan celebrates winning gold at the last Commonwealth Games in 2018

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Rhys McClenaghan celebrates winning gold at the last Commonwealth Games in 2018

Gold medallist Rhys McClenaghan has said it is “heart-breaking” that he is unable to defend his champion title at this July’s Commonwealth Games.

He was told that he and his teammates - Belfast’s Eamon Montgomery and Lisburn’s Ewan McAteer - have all been excluded from the Birmingham Games as they have represented Ireland in other events, including the Olympics.

The Newtownards athlete has since asked for the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) to overturn their decision to ban them from representing Ireland in the games.

"It's devastating because (2018) was one of the best days of my life, representing Northern Ireland and winning a gold medal. Now I seemingly won't get that opportunity," said McClenaghan.

"I relish those opportunities, I look forward to those opportunities, and when one is taken away from me like this and it's out of my control, it's very frustrating. Now I've got nothing to train for in the build-up to these Games, it's disrupted my training programme. I do just hope the FIG can make the right decision and select us rightfully so.

"A lot of my programming works towards the Commonwealth Games, it's every four years like the Olympics, so it's like the secondary Olympics between the Olympics. When that's taken away from me it's a very heart-breaking thing to happen."

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He reiterated the point that he is not the only gymnast going through this.

"For all of us, we're equally disappointed. It was to be Eamon's first Games, now this has happened and it's not a great representation of what sport's really like. For me, sport is a beautiful place to be in and right now it's not," he added.

The Co Down athlete understands that gymnastics is the only sport – out of the total 13 sports represented by Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games- who is subject to these rules.

“it seems very unfair we are the only ones having this issue,” he told BBC's Good Morning Ulster.

“Going forward this could have huge implications for gymnasts on who they represent and if this is carried out and we don’t get to compete, what’s it going to do for younger gymnasts? Is their identity completely stripped away from them? Are they not allowed to compete for Ireland unless they want to compete for Northern Ireland in Commonwealth Games?

“It takes away from that Good Friday Agreement of the athlete – or even Olympian - being allowed to choose what nationality they can represent.”

Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland is planning an appeal after what it described an “incomprehensible” decision to exclude the three gymnasts from Birmingham.

A CGNI statement said the FIG are “out of step with our other member sports”.

“Commonwealth Games NI will continue to support our athletes, and we are determined that they will represent Northern Ireland at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. We hope to see the FIG reconsider their position.”

Sport NI also released a statement backing the three gymnasts and offered their support to try and help overturn the decision.

“The ruling by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) 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.”

The FIG have been approached for comment by the Belfast Telegraph.

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