It is not acceptable for athletes from Northern Ireland to have to compete under a foreign flag

A letter from David Campbell:

By David Campbell
Tuesday, 10th August 2021, 11:24 am
Updated Tuesday, 10th August 2021, 11:44 am
Ireland's Kellie Harrington with the tricolour flag during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Ireland's Kellie Harrington with the tricolour flag during the closing ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

The Tokyo Olympic Games has finally taken place and great credit should go to the organisers, and to all the competitors who participated in continuing uncertain and unusual circumstances.

One major ambiguity occurs at every Olympics however, and that is the status of athletes and competitors from Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom does not compete as the United Kingdom, but rather as Great Britain; and in some events participants from Northern Ireland are considered for inclusion in the British team, but in many others they are excluded and must offer themselves for consideration for the Republic of Ireland team.

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Athletes from Team GB arrive home including Jason Kenny, Laura Kenny and Katie Archibald (front left-right) at Heathrow after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

This serves to create the impression that Northern Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom and it creates an inequality for potential competitors from Northern Ireland who wish to be selected for their national team ie the UK.

Clearly for Northern Ireland competitors from a nationalist background this is probably a welcome situation, but for those of a unionist disposition it is discriminatory and offensive, and runs against the Rights and Identity provisions for all citizens in the Belfast Agreement.

It is high time that this anomaly is addressed, both by the United Kingdom government and by the International Olympic Committee.

It is simply not acceptable for Northern Ireland competitors to have to compete under a foreign flag that they may well consider obnoxious and alien to their own nationality.

Letter to the editor

During the early periods of devolution I can recall strenuous efforts being made by Northern Ireland competitive cyclists to be recognised as British cyclists and to be considered for selection for the British team. David Trimble, as the then First Minister, backed their cause but they encountered huge opposition from the Irish federation who went to exceptional lengths to ensure that Northern Ireland cyclists would not be recognised as British by the International governing bodies.

I understand that other sporting disciplines have met the same opposition, and also receive veiled threats that if they rock the boat they will be deprived of funding, and excluded from all international competitions. If this were happening to nationalist competitors there would be a massive outcry until their rights under the Belfast Agreement were honoured. Well, it is high time that Unionist sportsmen and women were given the same access to selection for United Kingdom teams in every discipline, as English, Scots, and Welsh competitors have. This is their right under the Belfast Agreement, and the only barrier to selection should be ability.

I appeal to the unionist leaders, and to our Prime Minister, to deal with this gross inequality so that in Paris, 2024 we see a United Kingdom Olympic team competing!

David Campbell, Chief of Staff to First Minister David Trimble, 1998 -2003

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