Commonwealth Games: Tánaiste and north's communities minister call for gymnasts' ban to be reversed
THE tánaiste and north's communities minister have called on the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) to overturn its decision to ban three gymnasts from Northern Ireland from this summer's Commonwealth Games.
Defending pommel horse champion Rhys McClenaghan and team-mates Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer have been told they could not represent Northern Ireland because they compete for Ireland in international events.
Many among Northern Ireland's 90-strong squad for the games also represent Ireland at international level in various sports including athletics and boxing.
The FIG is the only sporting governing body with Commonwealth Games participation to have made such a ruling.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar criticised the decision.
"This decision is wrong," he tweeted.
"I hope FIG will reconsider. The Good Friday Agreement provides unique status for people in Northern Ireland.
"It's based on the idea that you have the right to be Irish, British or both and be accepted as such."
McClenaghan, who won Commonwealth gold on the pommel horse in Australia, said he was born and lived in Northern Ireland.
"I feel that FIG do not understand the gravity of the Belfast Agreement and the unique situation pertaining to Northern Ireland," he said.
"Every other sport understand the eligibility of Northern Irish athletes in accordance with Commonwealth Games. I would like to ask the FIG to reconsider their decision and allow us to compete at the Commonwealth Games."
Communities minister Deirdre Hargey has now written to the FIG asking it to immediately overturn the decision.
"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," she said.
"The announcement is ill-advised and 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. The athletes concerned have put their lives on hold and have dedicated months, if not years, to prepare to compete at the Birmingham games.
"The decision of the federation has totally disregarded the detrimental impact that the decision will have on the athletes, their families and on the sport of gymnastics here. I have contacted FIG seeking an immediate overturn of this decision."