Writing in today’s newspaper (see link below), the Ulster-born Labour MP Kate Hoey raises an issue that has been neglected for too long: the ability of sports people in some Northern Ireland sports to play for British teams.
The issue has been in the spotlight because of the deplorable way in which boxing clubs from Protestant areas have been allowed to feel uncomfortable.
Yet the Northern Ireland Boxing Association is still not recognised by Sport NI. It is at least arguable that the best way forward for boxing clubs, whose concerns have been ignored, is to break free of the all-island model, which is forced upon them.
Ms Hoey’s comments are important because she highlights the all-Ireland straitjacket that applies in several key sports. In tennis or swimming it is not possible for Northern Ireland citizens to compete under the British flag.
Stars in other sports such as Iain Lewis, the Northern Irish hockey player, have been similarly barred (he took legal action before he became a member of the British team).
This is entirely unacceptable, and has led to sports players having to move to live in Great Britain to be eligible
Ms Hoey, a former UK-wide sports minister, says that these policies in some of the sports are ignoring the right of people of the Province to be British or Irish under the Belfast Agreement. As she adds, the “uncomfortable politics” of sport in Northern Ireland can no longer be ignored.