Commonwealth Games 2022: Banning Northern Irish gymnasts ‘contravenes Good Friday Agreement’

Politicians of the Northern Ireland Assembly have united behind demands for the trio of athletes who have previously represented Ireland to be allowed to compete at the Commonwealths in July

Lawrence Ostlere
Tuesday 31 May 2022 15:28 BST
Rhys McClenaghan celebrates after winning gold for Northern Ireland at the 2018 Commonwealths in Australia
Rhys McClenaghan celebrates after winning gold for Northern Ireland at the 2018 Commonwealths in Australia (Getty Images)

Politicians in Northern Ireland have united behind calls for three banned gymnasts to be allowed to compete at the Commonwealth Games, saying the decision by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) contravenes the Good Friday Agreement.

The FIG ruled that the trio – Eamon Montgomery, Ewan McAteer and reigning Commonwealth pommelhorse gold medallist Rhys McClenaghan – could not compete for Northern Ireland at this summer’s Games in Birmingham because they had previously represented Ireland in competition.

The Good Friday Agreement states that citizens of Northern Ireland should be free to choose whether their identity is British, Irish or both – a principle widely upheld across elite sport.

Montgomery, who won World Cup bronze in the floor discipline in April, recently told the Belfast Telegraph he would be “heartbroken” to miss the Commonwealths, while McClenaghan tweeted: “My personal identity is in a very difficult place right now.”

In a letter addressed to the FIG president Morinari Watanabe, signed by 81 of the 90 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, politicians from all sides called for Watanabe to overturn the ban.

“We write to protest against your decision,” the letter read. “Your decision runs against custom and practice in many sports, which permit sportspeople from Northern Ireland to represent variously Northern Ireland, Ireland or Great Britain & Northern Ireland.

“It also contravenes the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, an internationally binding treaty, which enshrines the right of each citizen of Northern Ireland to define themselves as British, Irish or both. We therefore urge you to reverse your decision with immediate effect.”

McClenaghan represented Ireland at the Olympic Games in Tokyo last year. The Irish Olympic team represents all 32 counties on the island of Ireland, including Northern Ireland, and athletes from the north can choose whether to represent Ireland or to compete for Great Britain & Northern Ireland.

Britain is split into its four costituent countries at the Commonwealth Games, meaning Northern Ireland are a team in their own right, as are England, Wales and Scotland.

McClenaghan tweeted his thanks to the Assembly. “I would thank all 81 of the Assembly Members for their support in this current situation. I hope @gymnastics can see the importance of the Belfast Agreement and the negative effects of their decision.”

The FIG has been contacted for comment.

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