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Commonwealth Games NI plan appeal as three gymnasts banned from competing in Birmingham


Gymnast Rhys McClenaghan

Gymnast Rhys McClenaghan

Gymnast Rhys McClenaghan

Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland say they are planning an appeal after what it described an ‘incomprehensible' decision to exclude three of their gymnasts from the upcoming Games in Birmingham.

All three of Eamon Montgomery, Ewan McAteer and Rhys McClenaghan will not be allowed to participate due to a ruling from the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), which met recently in Dubrovnik.

Despite all three athletes being born in Northern Ireland and having Northern Irish parents, the FIG ruled that because they routinely compete for Ireland at events where Northern Ireland do not participate, they are not eligible to compete for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games.

This decision comes even though both McAteer and McClenaghan competed for Northern Ireland at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, where the latter won gold on the pommel horse.

McClenaghan, from Newtownards, would have been among the favourites for gold again in Birmingham, while Lisburn’s McAteer and Belfast’s Montgomery would also have been in medal contention, too.

"Historically, TeamNI at all Commonwealth Games has included athletes across a range of sports who have chosen to represent either (Ireland) or (Great Britain) at European Championships, World Championships and Olympic Games,” read CGNI’s statement.

"We even have athletes within the same sport who have chosen different international performance pathways. This has always been respected and adds to the inclusive nature of TeamNI at Commonwealth Games.

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“The FIG appear to have completely disregarded the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the unique situation pertaining to Northern Ireland. They are out of step with all of 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 Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. We hope to see the FIG reconsider their position to make this so.”

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

“Northern Ireland is a place of complex identities, and the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement sought to balance these delicate relationships by affording people the greatest possible choice to be British, Irish, Northern Irish, and any or all of the above," said chief executive Antoinette McKeown.

"In the past decade Sport NI has worked with partners to ensure sport shows equal flexibility to accommodate and afford our local athletes the widest possible opportunity to compete.

“At international level, most competitions see our local athletes choose to compete for either Team Great Britain, or Team Ireland. The Commonwealth Games is a welcome opportunity for Northern Ireland athletes, whatever their community background or political opinion, to represent their region, and we have a proud history of them doing so.

"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.”

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