Commonwealth Games: Birmingham ban on NI gymnastics trio overturned

Rhys McClenaghan beat Olympic champion Max Whitlock to win gold on pommel horse for Northern Ireland at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia

Commonwealth Games champion Rhys McClenaghan and two other gymnasts from Northern Ireland will compete at this summer’s Games after being granted a special waiver, BBC Sport has learned.

McClenaghan, Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer were told last month they could not compete in Birmingham as they had represented Ireland in international competition.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has just changed its initial decision.

The decision to ban the trio has drawn considerable anger from Commonwealth Games NI and a host of athletes and politicians, including Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis and Tánaiste (Deputy Premier Irish minister) Leo Varadkar.

Lewis said earlier this month he was “extremely disappointed with the FIG’s continued refusal” to allow all three gymnasts to compete in Birmingham.

“Their right to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement must be respected and that decision must change,” the Secretary of State said, adding that the trio “have our full support”.

Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland had submitted information to the Swiss-based international governing body about the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and how it allowed Northern Ireland to see itself as British or Irish.

In response to widespread criticism of their decision, the FIG initially suggested the trio could waive Irish nationality on their gymnastics licenses to compete in Birmingham.

However, this would have barred the trio from further international competition for a number of years and was therefore not seen as a realistic remedy.

His second suggestion was that the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), the organizer of the event, remove the affected gymnastics competitions from the FIG calendar.

However, with the Birmingham event requiring FIG officials to run the gymnastics competitions, it was once again a non-runner.

Afterwards, Northern Ireland Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, along with the Commonwealth Games NI, along with officials from Gymnastics Northern Ireland and Gymnastic Ireland, held what was described as an “open and productive meeting ” with the FIG on June 1 on the matter.

Following these discussions, Ms Hargey said everyone around the table “wanted to find a solution”.

McClenaghan, who won a European title for Ireland in 2018 and also represented the island at last year’s Olympics, won Northern Ireland’s only gold medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games , winning the pommel horse title on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Many of the athletes in Northern Ireland’s team for the Games – expected to number around 90 competitors – represent Ireland internationally.

Comments are closed.