Rhys McClenaghan has spoken out about the controversial decision by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) to prevent him and his teammates from representing Northern Ireland at this summer's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
McClenaghan represented Team Ireland at last year's Tokyo Olympics, and the FIG have chosen to ban him from representing the separate Northern Irish team at this summer's games.
The County Down man won gold in the Pommel Horse at the last Commonwealth Games in Australia but, as it stands, he will not have a chance to defend his medal in Birmingham.
McClenaghan took to Twitter to vent his frustrations and suggested that the FIG lacked understanding of the importance of the Belfast Agreement in a sporting context.
Rhys McClenaghan: Gymnast prevented from representing Northern Ireland
With just over 60 days to go to this summer's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Rhys McClenaghan received a nasty shock. He, along with his Northern Irish gymnastics teammates, will not be allowed by the FIG to compete in the Games.
Speaking on the matter on social media, McClenaghan slammed the decision, and urged the FIG to reconsider.
Earlier today I was informed that the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) will not be allowing myself and my team mates to compete at the Commonwealth Games for Northern Ireland. pic.twitter.com/E8FndrY9Xv
— Rhys Mcclenaghan (@McClenaghanRhys) May 26, 2022
Earlier today I was informed that the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) will not be allowing myself and my team mates to compete at the Commonwealth Games for Northern Ireland.
I was born in Northern Ireland, my residence is in Northern Ireland and I represented and won Gold for Northern Ireland in the last Commonwealth Games.
I feel that FIG do not understand the gravity of the Belfast Agreement and the unique situation pertaining to Northern Ireland.
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.
The controversial decision comes as a response to McClenaghan having represented Team Ireland in last summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo - a competition in which he did not have the option of representing a solo Northern Irish team. He finished seventh in the Pommel Horse final.
McClenaghan's teammates Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer have also been impacted by the ruling.
In a separate statement, Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland also slammed the decision, and encouraged the FIG to reverse their decision.
All three athletes were born in Northern Ireland, and have parents born in Northern Ireland, but yet they have been told that they are ineligible to compete for Northern Ireland. This is apparently because they compete routinely for Ireland at FIG tournaments. Northern Ireland does not take part in such tournaments.
Historically, TeamNI at all Commonwealth Games has included athletes across a range of sports who have chosen to represent either IRL or GBR at European Championships, World Championships and Olympic Games. We even have athletes within the same sport who have chosen different international performance pathways.
This has always been respected and adds to the inclusive nature of TeamNI at Commonwealth Games.
FIG appear to have completely disregarded the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the unique situation pertaining to Northern Ireland. They are out of step with all of our other member sports.
We hope to see the FIG reconsider their position to make this so.
The Irish Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was also among those to speak out about the decision, replying to McClenaghan's tweet. Varadkar called on the FIG to reverse their decision, and explained the significance of the Good Friday Agreement.
This decision is wrong. I hope FIG will reconsider. The Good Friday Agreement provides unqiue 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
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) May 27, 2022
McClenaghan's coach was similarly unhappy with the decision and called it a 'clear violation' of the Good Friday Agreement.
I am so fed up of having my identity consistently chipped away at and disregarded. National Identity is a very personal and unique aspect of every resident of NI. This decision from @gymnastics is another example of this and is a clear violation of the good Friday agreement.
— Luke Carson (@LukeCarson23) May 27, 2022
Rhys McClenaghan and co. will be hoping for a swift change, with just over two months of preparation time to go until this summer's Commonwealth Games.