Sport NI’s belated response to my article calling for equality of opportunity for Northern Ireland athletes, in being empowered to represent the UK and/or Northern Ireland, was by any standard rather shoddy and disingenuous.
(Most athletes don’t care what flag they compete under, News Letter letters, November 15 – itself a response to Kate Hoey’s letter Sport NI should recognise Northern Ireland governing bodies, September 29.)
The point, as Sport NI well knows, is that in most sports a British citizen in Northern Ireland is deprived of the right to compete as a member of a British team because of Sports NI-supported requirements for affiliation to an Irish
governing body, as in the case of boxing.
Here affiliation to the Irish Boxing Association is mandatory and means anyone from Northern Ireland can only fight under the Irish flag, unless they move to GB. This is scandalous.
Hence my dismay that Sports NI has refused to support a Northern Ireland Boxing Association whereby local boxers could choose to fight for NI and/or GB, while those wanting to box for Ireland continuing to affiliate to the IABA.
The Belfast Agreement proclaims the right to self identify as British or Irish, but the present facility to affiliate to Irish only Governing bodies denies the choice to NI athletes to compete under a British flag unless they move to live in Great Britain.
It is this discrimination which Sports NI has shamefully sustained and supported, and which its hyperbole does not change.
If the discrimination was reversed and all were required to compete only for the UK unless they physically moved to live in the Republic I suspect there would be uproar from Sport NI.
Representing your country in a sporting event is a wonderful achievement. But it has to be under the flag you have chosen freely and not because it is the only way to compete.
It is really time that the Sports Council lived up to its title which is Sport NI, NOT Sport Ireland.
Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall