Most athletes do not care which flag they compete under

Belfast professional boxer Lewis Crocker was paid compensation by the Ulster Boxing Council after claiming religious discrimination
Belfast professional boxer Lewis Crocker was paid compensation by the Ulster Boxing Council after claiming religious discrimination

An article written by Kate Hoey was published in the 29 September 2018 edition of the News Letter

(Kate Hoey: Sport NI should recognise Northern Ireland governing bodies).

Letter to the editor

Letter to the editor

The article shared some interesting views; it also misrepresented the role of Sport NI and provided inaccurate statements about the recognition process for sporting bodies and choices exercised by NI athletes on a continual basis. Sport NI’s commitment to working with athletes and sporting communities across these islands means that we must present the facts of how we work for the benefit of everyone in sport.

Sport NI vigorously denies any anti-British bias in our sporting decisions and to make a statement of such bias in the absence of current evidence does a disservice to all engaged in sport.

The historic case relating to boxer Lewis Crocker, settled recently, reflected an unacceptable sub-culture in boxing at that time which Sport NI found abhorrent.

A significant amount of time, energy, and challenge has gone into addressing sectarianism in boxing from Sport NI and the Department for Communities.

The governance, leadership, and membership of Ulster Boxing has been transformed in recent years as a result of that work.

It is misleading to state that many boxing clubs from predominately Protestant areas have been denied funding and disingenuous to infer a link between that and alleged anti-British bias.

It is also misleading to state that Northern Ireland Boxing Association (NIBA) is still not recognised by Sport NI.

Sport NI adheres to a UK wide policy on recognition of sports governing bodies, the same one is applied by each of the Home Country sporting organisations of England, Wales, Scotland, NI and UK Sport.

NIBA did not meet the criteria for recognition, including criteria on affiliation and influence. Currently all affiliated boxing clubs in Northern Ireland, including those in Protestant communities, are affiliated to the Irish Amateur Boxing Association.

Everyone in NI has the right to identify as British or Irish or both and this is never ignored.

This right is preserved by Sport NI in its continual facilitation of athletes who wish to compete for either Britain or Ireland, regardless of the jurisdiction of their national governing body of sport (IE, within either NI, GB or the island of Ireland).

Indeed many sports bodies were formed before the establishment of the Northern Ireland state and the Republic of Ireland; the Irish Amateur Boxing Association for example, was formed in 1911.

Contrary to what Kate Hoey’s article states, all NI citizens have the right to compete as either British or Irish athletes and this is a matter of athlete choice.

In many Commonwealth sports – EG, boxing – NI athletes can also compete under a NI flag in the Commonwealth Games.

Competing at the highest level for either British or Irish sports is highly likely to require athletes to be based outside NI for large periods of time.

This may be to participate in centralised training camps or international competition.

Sport NI has however been working with sports to support performance development programmes within Northern Ireland, where appropriate.

Kate’s article references a range of sports suggesting that athletes are not permitted to play under the British flag; this is simply not true; in hockey, Iain Lewers, for example, an outstanding player from Northern Ireland, could have competed at Irish underage level for Ireland and then made the move that he did to represent both GB and England with no sit-out period.

However he competed at senior international level for Ireland and therefore had to adhere to the sit-out period as required by the international federation for switching countries. All the above is beyond Sport NI’s control and comes down to athlete choice.

Sport NI is working with all governing bodies to explicitly identify the choices available to NI citizens around selecting which country to compete for. This work will bring clarity and transparency relating to competing for GBR or IRL, both now and in the future.

Other examples given by Kate in relation to tennis and swimming are equally misleading.

It is appropriate that International Federations determine the rules and regulations for their sports.

The UK is a country and Ireland is a country, and for that reason NI does not have country status internationally, therefore it is unreasonable to expect sports to recognise the region as a country, with most federations and sports bodies pre-dating the existence of NI.

NI is for the most part a province of Ireland or a region of the UK, and as such fits into the larger system of which it is a part.

There are only a few of examples of sports where NI is recognised as the competing nation, including football/soccer and netball.

The strength of the Belfast agreement is that irrespective of which sporting body operates within NI, athletes can choose to compete for either GBR or IRL.

I entirely agree with Kate that Sport can unite people, but only if the rules are fair.

Sport NI’s extensive experience is that most athletes don’t care which flag they compete under as long as it’s a winning team. It is important not to forget the scores of NI athletes who have competed for their non-jurisdictional sports body (or switched nationality).

It is critical that the rules that govern sport in NI and internationally, are accurately presented and that we don’t create divisions in a society which has seen enough or in a sector which has so much power to unite.

Sport NI

(the statement came with no name attached)