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exclusive International Gymnastics Federation suggests NI athletes renounce Irish nationality to compete at Commonwealth Games


Rhys McClenaghan.

Rhys McClenaghan.

Rhys McClenaghan.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has said Northern Ireland athletes will have to renounce their Irish nationality on their license if they wish to compete at the Commonwealth Games.

A second option, the FIG added is for the Commonwealth Games Federation – the international organisation responsible for the direction and control of the Commonwealth Games – to remove the competition from the FIG calendar of registered competitions.

It comes amid a backlash from NI sporting bodies and the government after a ruling by FIG determined that Rhys McClenaghan, Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer cannot compete for Northern Ireland.

Commonwealth Games NI described the decision as "reprehensible" and has challenged the ruling, which it says has been made because the gymnasts represent Ireland in FIG events.

They have all been excluded from the Birmingham Games.

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Now, in a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, the FIG said it received a letter from the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) on May 16, requesting personal invitations for three gymnasts - Rhys McClenaghan, Ewan McAteer and Eamon Montgomery – to allow them to compete at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

The request to allow these gymnasts who currently hold an FIG license for Ireland (IRL) to compete for Northern Ireland at the 2022 Commonwealth Games was discussed by the FIG Executive Committee during its meeting on May 25.

After deliberation, the Executive Committee rejected this request.

The main rationale for this decision is a violation of the FIG Statutes and rules: gymnasts taking part in any international competition sanctioned by the FIG must have a valid FIG license of the national federation they represent.

A spokesperson said: “In 2017, the FIG had already informed Gymnastics Ireland, along with British Gymnastics, in writing, that gymnasts and judges under the IRL national federation registration with the FIG were not eligible for the Commonwealth Games.

“The FIG realises the challenges this situation brings for all stakeholders 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 license nationality registration.

“The FIG awaits an official decision on the options suggested.

“In the meantime, the FIG will not make any further comments."

There has been criticism of the decision in respect of the Good Friday Agreement and Rhys McClenaghan has spoken of his “heartbreak” at not being able to defend the title he won for Northern Ireland at the 2018 Games on the Gold Coast.

Olympic finalist McClenaghan, from Newtownards in County Down, won Northern Ireland's only gold at the 2018 Games on the Gold Coast, where Lisburn's McAteer also competed.

In a statement Commonwealth Games NI said "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's statement made the point that Northern Ireland teams do not compete in FIG competitions, with gymnasts having the option to represent Great Britain or Ireland at international level.

"Historically, Team NI at all Commonwealth Games has included athletes across a range of sports who have chosen to represent either IRL or GBR at European Championships, World Championships and Olympic Games.

"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 Team NI at Commonwealth Games," a spokesperson added.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has also branded the decision “a disgrace” saying it “does not respect the rights of our citizens".

“The timing of the announcement is something that I struggle to understand given that it is so close to the start of the Games," she added.

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