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Northern Ireland gymnasts told to change Irish registration for Commonwealth Games

Rhys McClenaghan and two other gymnasts have been told they are ineligible to compete in the event this summer.

Rhys McClenaghan is one of the gymnasts who has been affected by the decision.
Rhys McClenaghan is one of the gymnasts who has been affected by the decision.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

AN INTERNATIONAL GYMNASTICS body has suggested that three gymnasts from Northern Ireland change their Irish registration in order to compete at the Commonwealth Games in July.

It comes after politicians north and south of the border criticised the decision not to let Olympic gymnast Rhys McClenaghan defend his title at the Commonwealth Games as a “disgrace” and contrary to the Good Friday Agreement.

The 22-year-old and his two Northern Ireland teammates have been told they are ineligible to compete in the event this summer because they routinely represent Ireland in competitions overseen by the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG), the sport’s international ruling body.

Last year, McClenaghan represented Ireland in the men’s pommel horse final at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

McClenaghan won gold while representing Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

In a statement to the PA news agency on Friday, the FIG said it had “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”.

It added: “The request to allow these gymnasts who currently hold an FIG licence 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 licence of the national federation they represent.

“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 licence nationality registration.

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

Politicians have been criticising the decision as contrary to the Good Friday Agreement, which enshrines the rights of citizens in Northern Ireland to identify as British, as Irish, or as both.

The 1998 peace treaty gives citizens the right to hold a British passport, an Irish passport, or both a British and an Irish passport.

Earlier on Friday, Northern Ireland’s communities minister Deirdre Hargey criticised the decision by the FIG, and said she had written to the body to seek an immediate overturning of the decision.

Ms Hargey said: “The decision taken by the International Gymnastics Federation to exclude our athletes Eamon Montgomery, Ewan McAteer and Rhys McClenaghan from the Commonwealth Games is a disgrace.

“The announcement is ill-advised and does not respect the rights of our citizens.”

The FIG said it would not be making further comment.

Gymnastics Ireland has also released a statement on the matter, expressing their hope that the issue can be resolved to allow the gymnasts to represent Northern Ireland.

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“While Gymnastics Ireland is not directly involved with the Commonwealth Games (CWG) many of our athletes, officials and staff have historically represented Northern Ireland at multiple CWG events. They have done so by virtue of the fact that while they hold International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) licences for Ireland they also meet the eligibility and selection criteria of the NICGC. This includes Irish international gymnastics star and 2018 Commonwealth Games Champion Rhys McClenaghan.

“Historically this issue has come up before regarding a number of CWG’s events and on each occasion Gymnastics Ireland (GI) and British Gymnastics (BG) have written to FIG to clarify our position in support of the gymnasts/officials. In 2017 at the request of Gymnastics Northern Ireland (GNI) both GI & BG engaged with the FIG, the resolution being that the gymnasts would be allowed to compete in the 2018 Commonwealth Games however officials with an Irish FIG licence would not be allowed to participate on that occasion.

“Gymnastics Northern Ireland was the primary conduit of communication for this as matters that relate to Northern Ireland CWG participation are within their jurisdiction as a member of the NICGC.

“To date Gymnastics Ireland has had no further communication on this issue from either the FIG, GNI, CGF or NICGC until we were contacted by representatives of the NICGC yesterday 26th May 2022 to inform us that this eligibility issue had emerged again.

“Despite this not being within our jurisdiction we immediately engaged with all relevant stakeholders/partners and wrote directly to the President & Secretary General of FIG to reaffirm our support for the gymnasts in question requesting that they be allowed to compete in the 2022 Commonwealth Games. We are awaiting a reply from FIG.

“Historically the FIG has always supported the rights of the citizens of Northern Ireland and gymnasts with Irish FIG licences to participate in CWG events.

“As per our letter we have requested that the FIG continues with the supportive position that they have previously taken and grants permission for the gymnasts/officials in question to represent Northern Ireland at the upcoming 2022 Commonwealth Games. We request the FIG makes this a formal policy position moving forward to avoid any future issue.

“Gymnastics Ireland remains available to immediately engage with any relevant stakeholder/partner to secure a speedy resolution in the interests of our gymnasts.”

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