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Northern Ireland gymnasts to change nationality

Northern Ireland’s leading gymnasts have been told they will have to change nationalities if they want to compete in this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

That is the blunt message from the sport’s international governing body, the FIG, in response to the uproar over its decision to ineligible the athletes for representing Ireland in international competitions.

In a statement, the FIG said it “recognized the challenges” of the situation and proposed two solutions, the first of which – the effective removal of the FIG as organizers – was privately dismissed by Commonwealth Games Federation officials as an impossibility at such a late stage .

The FIG statement added: “The second option would be for the athletes to change their FIG license nationality registration.”

In effect, this would mean that the three gymnasts involved – reigning pommel champions Rhys McClenaghan, Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer – would have to switch to represent one of the other ‘home’ nations – something English, Scottish and Welsh gymnasts can do because they hold UK licenses.

In response to Thursday’s confirmation of the ban, McClenaghan had asked the FIG to reconsider its decision, blaming the governing body for “failing to understand the gravity of the Belfast Agreement and the unique situation in Northern Ireland”.

However, it seems their only hope of a turnaround is an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is likely among options being considered by Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland.

The FIG statement added: “The application to allow these gymnasts, who currently hold a FIG Ireland (IRL) license, to compete for Northern Ireland at the 2022 Commonwealth Games was approved by the FIG Executive Committee during its meeting on 25 April 2022. discussed in May.

“After deliberation, the Executive Committee rejected this application. The main reason for this decision is a breach of FIG statutes and rules: gymnasts competing in an international competition sanctioned by the FIG must have a valid FIG license from the national federation they represent.

“In 2017 the FIG Gymnastics Ireland together with British Gymnastics had already given written notice that gymnasts and judges under the national federation’s IRL registration with the FIG were not eligible for the Commonwealth Games.”

Later on Friday night, Gymnastics Ireland released a statement reiterating their hope that the FIG would relent and allow the gymnasts concerned to represent Northern Ireland at the Games.

It read: “While Gymnastics Ireland is not directly involved with the Commonwealth Games (CWG), many of our athletes, officials and staff have represented Northern Ireland at a number of CWG events in the past.

“They did this due to the fact that while they hold the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) licenses for Ireland, they also meet the NICGC’s eligibility and selection criteria. These include Irish international gymnastics star and 2018 Commonwealth Games champion Rhys McClenaghan.

“In the past this issue has arisen at a number of CWG events and on each occasion Gymnastics Ireland (GI) and British Gymnastics (BG) have written to the FIG to clarify our position in support of the gymnasts/officials.

“In 2017, at the request of Gymnastics Northern Ireland (GNI), both the GI and BG joined forces with the FIG, the decision being that gymnasts would be allowed to compete in the 2018 Commonwealth Games but officials with an Irish FIG license would be allowed not participate.

“Gymnastics Northern Ireland has been the primary channel of communication for this as matters relating to CWG Northern Ireland participation fall within their jurisdiction as a member of the NICGC.

“To date, Gymnastics Ireland has not received any further communication on this issue from the FIG, GNI, CGF or NICGC until we were contacted yesterday 26 May 2022 by representatives from the NICGC to advise us that this eligibility issue has re-emerged is.

“Although this is not within our remit, we immediately contacted all relevant stakeholders/partners and wrote directly to the FIG President and Secretary General to reiterate our support for the gymnasts concerned and to request that they be referred to the Commonwealth Games 2022 allowed to participate. We are awaiting a response from FIG.

“In the past the FIG has always supported the rights of citizens of Northern Ireland and gymnasts holding Irish FIG licenses to participate in CWG events.

“As per our letter, we have requested that the FIG continue the supportive position previously taken and allow the gymnasts/officials concerned to represent Northern Ireland at the forthcoming 2022 Commonwealth Games. We demand that the FIG make this a formal political position to avoid future problems.

“Gymnastics Ireland remains available to liaise immediately with all relevant stakeholders/partners to achieve a speedy resolution on behalf of our gymnasts.”

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