Sprinter Jason Smyth: ‘Windsor Park snub was because I run for Ireland'
PARALYMPIC sprint champion Jason Smyth has hit out at the Irish Football Association (IFA) for excluding him from a celebration of the north's sporting legends.
To mark the completion of redevelopment works at Northern Ireland's Windsor Park stadium, a so-called 'Lap of Legends' took place prior to Saturday's game against San Marino.
Some of the north's best known sports stars and celebrities were introduced to the 18,500-strong crowd at the £38 million stadium before parading around the pitch.
They included world champion boxer Carl Frampton and former snooker world champion Dennis Taylor.
Other Paralympians were included in the parade including skier Kelly Gallagher who won Great Britain's first ever gold medal at a Winter Paralympics.
And swimmer Bethany Firth, who switched from Ireland to Great Britain before winning three golds in Rio this summer, was also introduced to the crowd.
But Smyth from Eglinton in Co Derry, along with Ireland's four-time Paralympic gold medallist Michael McKillop from Glengormley, - who both represented Ireland at the recent games - were not included.
Speaking to the Irish News, Smyth said he was disappointed not to have been asked adding, "For me, it shouldn't ever be about what colours you wear or what flag you compete under".
The 100m and 200m champion, who is a devout Mormon, said he would "definitely" have accepted an invitation from the IFA.
"I never put myself on either side of the fence. I'm not Protestant, I'm not a Catholic.
"Obviously people will look at it and say there were lots of other sports stars that weren't there.
"But when you look at Paralympians, the girls deserve to be there for what they've achieved but there's only one thing that separates them from myself and Michael (McKillop)."
Smyth who said football was his number one love before taking up athletics added: "Obviously, I'm from Northern Ireland so I support Northern Ireland."
The athlete, who has represented Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games said he took the decision to represent Ireland as a teenager after "Great Britain didn't offer me any support".
In 2012, the Royal Mail - which painted postboxes gold in the hometowns of all GB gold medallists - refused to do so in recognition of Smyth, McKillop and Firth because they had represented Ireland at the London games.
However, it later reversed the decision following a public outcry.
Smyth had taken to Twitter on Saturday evening when he asked deputy first minister Martin McGuinness: "Only in NI does the colours you wear mean more than what you achieve! Do you think we will ever move on?"
The Sinn Féin politician, who was among those who attended the match, responded: "Jason, if we have any sense, we can't afford not to move on. Your contribution has been immense & must be recognised & appreciated."
The IFA said on Sunday night it did not "intend to cause offence".
"The idea of the Lap of Legends was to bring some famous fans from the world of sport, TV and music together in one place along with other supporters and the football family to celebrate the opening of the new National Football Stadium at Windsor Park," a spokesman said.
"There was a short 20-minute window in which to stage the event, so we were limited in terms of the number of people that we could invite.
"We did not intend to cause any offence to Jason or anyone else that was not part of the pre-match event.
"The Irish FA would be delighted to welcome Jason to Windsor Park in the future.”