Northern Ireland swimming hero Bethany Firth isn’t interested in the politics of the situation, but insists from a personal level she wants her good friend Rhys McClenaghan on the plane to Birmingham with her for next month’s Commonwealth Games.
McClenaghan, along with Northern Ireland team-mates Ewan McAteer and Eamon Montgomery, have been banned from competing at the Commonwealth Games by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) as they have also competed in their events for Ireland.
In a statement last week, the FIG confirmed the trio would have to renounce their Irish licenses — preventing them from competing for Ireland — in order to be given Northern Irish licenses to compete in Birmingham next month.
Firth herself has competed for all three — Great Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland — and isbacking McClenaghan all the way.
“I don’t understand the situation, those kind of things go way over my head,” she said. “But I know Rhys really well and we promote sport a lot together and, as a friend, I’m going to support him in whatever happens, no matter what the outcome is.”
This is an important Commonwealth Games for Firth as Birmingham have introduced her own category — S14 athletes with an intellectual impairment — to this year’s event.
The Seaforde woman has been to the Commonwealths before having competed in Glasgow 2014 as an able-bodied swimmer, which she will also do this year as well, but the main draw this time around is that she will go for gold in her para-sports category too.
Firth has returned from a broken foot in time for the World Para-Swimming Championships in Funchal, Portugal in two weeks’ time before heading to Birmingham, and she is thrilled to see the increased visibility given to para-sports at this year’s Games.
“I think it’s really important that they’re showing it and that they have para-sport in to allow people to understand it a bit more,” she added.
“Para-sport is so broad, there are people in wheelchairs and people who are amputees, and people understand a bit better because they can see it. But the S14 category is hard because people can’t see it or understand it.
“In this day and age it’s so important with mental health and people with learning difficulties and all these hidden things that need talked about more and normalised.”