David Campbell is wrong in his criticism of Olympic affiliations — athletes from Northern Ireland can represent Ireland or Team GB

A letter from Dr Katie Liston:

By Katie Liston
Thursday, 26th August 2021, 10:06 am
Updated Thursday, 26th August 2021, 10:19 am
The Olympic flag flies in Tokyo last month. There is no Republic of Ireland team that enters the Olympic Games, writes Dr Liston. The Olympic Federation of Ireland is constituted as a 32-county body and the official team name is Ireland
The Olympic flag flies in Tokyo last month. There is no Republic of Ireland team that enters the Olympic Games, writes Dr Liston. The Olympic Federation of Ireland is constituted as a 32-county body and the official team name is Ireland

I write to point out some factual errors in David Campbell’s opinion piece of August 10 (‘It is not acceptable for athletes from Northern Ireland to have to compete under a foreign flag,’ see link below).

First, there is no Republic of Ireland team that enters the Olympic Games. The Olympic Federation of Ireland is constituted as a 32-county body and the official team name is Ireland.

Second, athletes from Northern Ireland have dual eligibility for the Olympic Games via Ireland or Team GB, based on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and on the working relationships that exist within Olympic (and other) sports bodies.

Athletes from NI may elect to represent Ireland or Team GB if they meet the necessary selection criteria. Some have changed national team affiliation by following the necessary regulations in order to do so.

Yet others have not found their sportive and civic identities to be so incompatible as to prevent them from achieving international sports success.

I leave it up to others to attest publicly to the (in)accuracy of Mr Campbell’s claims to discrimination and offensiveness, of an undermining of rights and identity provisions for all citizens in the Belfast Agreement and of veiled threats towards athletes if they ‘rock the boat’.

This boat — an all island Olympic one — has sailed as such since the 1950s.

It has featured medal-winning exploits by athletes from both communities.

Medals have also been won via Team GB and the British Olympic Association (BOA). The BOA encompasses the home nations but also three crown dependencies and all but three of the British overseas territories.

Team GB is now the effective trading name that fitted best with the Olympic identification of GBR and it is an item of intellectual property which has developed over a number of Olympic cycles.

I would gladly speak to anyone who has insights to offer into the intricate connections between sport and national identity on this island.

As befits the Olympic theme, the starting blocks need to be accurate and disqualifications made where necessary.

Only then might we grasp fully the potential of sport to play a constructive role in reconciliation and mutual understanding.

Dr Katie Liston (FHEA, FInstLM), Senior Lecturer, Social Sciences of Sport, School of Sport, University of Ulster

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