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Rhys McClenaghan: Northern Ireland’s Commonwealth Games champion in nationality row with International Gymnastics Federation

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Northern Ireland trio Rhys McClenaghan, Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer have all been banned by the FIG from competing at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer because they have represented Ireland at other tournaments

Last Updated: 28/05/22 9:01am

Rhys McClenaghan won his 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal as a Northern Ireland gymnast

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) says Northern Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan may have to give up Irish nationality to defend his Commonwealth Games title in Birmingham.

McClenaghan, Northern Ireland’s only gold medal winner at the 2018 Games, has been banned – along with team-mates Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer – because they have represented Ireland at major tournaments where Northern Ireland do not compete.

Commonwealth Games NI say the FIG has ‘completely disregarded’ the Good Friday Agreement, while McClenaghan himself accused them of failing to understand ‘the unique situation pertaining to Northern Ireland’.

The FIG has outlined two potential solutions – one being for the three athletes to give up their Irish gymnastics licence and the other for the Commonwealth Games Federation to remove the relevant gymnastics competitions from the FIG calendar.

Gymnastics is the only sport causing such issues, with many of the 90-strong Northern Ireland squad in Birmingham also representing Ireland at international level – a normal occurrence following the signing of the peace deal in 1998.

However, the Republic of Ireland do not compete at the Commonwealth Games and that has been the case since the 1940s.

McClenaghan, 22, said: “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.

“Every other sport understand the eligibility of Northern Irish athletes in accordance with the Commonwealth Games.”

McClenaghan represented Ireland at the delayed 2020 Olympic Games (PA Images)

McClenaghan represented Ireland at the delayed 2020 Olympic Games (PA Images)

In a statement to Sky Sports News, the FIG described the main rationale for the decision as ‘a violation of the FIG Statutes and rules’.

The statement added: “Gymnasts taking part in any international competition sanctioned by the FIG must have a valid FIG licence of the national federation they represent.”

Irish registered gymnasts were allowed to compete for Northern Ireland at the 2018 Games, when McClenaghan won pommel horse gold in Australia.

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