Northern Ireland's leading gymnasts have been told they must switch nationality if they wish to compete at this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
That is the blunt message issued by the sport’s international governing body, the FIG, in response to uproar over their decision to declare the athletes ineligible because they have represented Ireland in international competition.
In a statement, the FIG said it "realises the challenges" of the situation and proposed two solutions, the first of which – the effective removal of the FIG as organisers – has been privately dismissed by Commonwealth Games Federation officials as an impossibility at such a late stage.
The FIG statement added: "The second option would be for the athletes to change their FIG license nationality registration."
Effectively, that would mean the three gymnasts concerned – reigning pommel champion Rhys McClenaghan, Eamon Montgomery and Ewan McAteer – having to switch to represent one of the other 'home' nations – something English, Scottish and Welsh gymnasts are able to do because they hold Great Britain licenses.
Responding to confirmation of the ban on Thursday, McClenaghan had asked the FIG to reconsider its decision and accused the governing body of "not understanding the gravity of the Belfast Agreement and the unique situation pertaining to Northern Ireland".
However, it now appears their only hope of a U-turn is an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, something that is likely among the options being considered by Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland.
The FIG statement added: "The request to allow these gymnasts who currently hold an FIG license for Ireland (IRL) to compete for Northern Ireland at the 2022 Commonwealth Games was discussed by the FIG executive committee during its meeting on 25 May.
"After deliberation, the executive committee rejected this request. The main rationale for this decision is a violation of the FIG statutes and rules: gymnasts taking part in any international competition sanctioned by the FIG must have a valid FIG license of the national federation they represent.
"In 2017, the FIG had already informed Gymnastics Ireland, along with British Gymnastics, in writing, that gymnasts and judges under the IRL national federation registration with the FIG were not eligible for the Commonwealth Games."
Later on Friday night Gymnastics Ireland released a statement reiterating their hope that the FIG relent and allow the gymnasts in question to represent Northern Ireland at the Games.
It read: "While Gymnastics Ireland is not directly involved with the Commonwealth Games (CWG) many of our athletes, officials and staff have historically represented Northern Ireland at multiple CWG events.
"They have done so by virtue of the fact that while they hold International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) licences for Ireland they also meet the eligibility and selection criteria of the NICGC. This includes Irish international gymnastics star and 2018 Commonwealth Games Champion Rhys McClenaghan.
"Historically this issue has come up before regarding a number of CWG's events and on each occasion Gymnastics Ireland (GI) and British Gymnastics (BG) have written to FIG to clarify our position in support of the gymnasts/officials.
"In 2017 at the request of Gymnastics Northern Ireland (GNI) both GI & BG engaged with the FIG, the resolution being that the gymnasts would be allowed to compete in the 2018 Commonwealth Games however officials with an Irish FIG licence would not be allowed to participate on that occasion.
"Gymnastics Northern Ireland was the primary conduit of communication for this as matters that relate to Northern Ireland CWG participation are within their jurisdiction as a member of the NICGC.
"To date Gymnastics Ireland has had no further communication on this issue from either the FIG, GNI, CGF or NICGC until we were contacted by representatives of the NICGC yesterday 26th May 2022 to inform us that this eligibility issue had emerged again.
"Despite this not being within our jurisdiction we immediately engaged with all relevant stakeholders/partners and wrote directly to the President & Secretary General of FIG to reaffirm our support for the gymnasts in question requesting that they be allowed to compete in the 2022 Commonwealth Games. We are awaiting a reply from FIG.
"Historically the FIG has always supported the rights of the citizens of Northern Ireland and gymnasts with Irish FIG licences to participate in CWG events.
"As per our letter we have requested that the FIG continues with the supportive position that they have previously taken and grants permission for the gymnasts/officials in question to represent Northern Ireland at the upcoming 2022 Commonwealth Games. We request the FIG makes this a formal policy position moving forward to avoid any future issue.
"Gymnastics Ireland remains available to immediately engage with any relevant stakeholder/partner to secure a speedy resolution in the interests of our gymnasts."