Northern Ireland

Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth question IFA Windsor Park 'snub'

Michael McKillop Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michael McKillop from Team Ireland said he would have loved to attend the event

A second paralympic gold medallist from Team Ireland has confirmed he was not initially on the guest list for an event marking the re-opening of Windsor Park stadium.

"I would have loved to have attended, I'm a massive sports fan and I've been to many Northern Ireland matches in the past," Michael McKillop told Radio Ulster's Talkback.

Fellow gold medallist Jason Smyth earlier questioned why he did not get invited.

The Irish Football Association said it did not intend to cause any offence.

The Lap of Legends event on Saturday night was organised to mark the redevelopment of the Belfast stadium. It is the home ground of the Northern Ireland football team.

The BBC understands that Olympic boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan, both from Team Ireland, did not receive invitations. Both said that if they had been invited, they would have considered going.

McKillop, who has won four gold medals at three Paralympic events, said: "It's really unfortunate. It's very disappointing on my part because I represent the island of Ireland and I always state that whenever I compete.

Image copyright AlL SPORT/Getty Images
Image caption At the Rio Paralympics, Team Ireland sprinter Jason Smyth clinched the fifth Paralympic gold medal of his career as he won a third straight T13 100m title

"You could say it's coming down to politics and who you compete for and that's really unfortunate because I've always represented the island. Politics should never come into sport. It's a sad scenario people have found themselves in."

McKillop said that, when he did not receive an invitation, his agent contacted the IFA on Thursday to ask them why not.

According to McKillop's agent, the IFA were helpful and assured him it was an oversight but due to a "surprise" family function McKillop had to decline the invitation in the end.

Jason Smyth, the five-times gold medallist from County Londonderry, also represents Team Ireland.

He tweeted at the weekend that only in Northern Ireland does "the colour you wear mean more than what you achieve".

He tagged Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness in the tweet and asked: "Do you think we will ever move on?"

In a later interview with the BBC, Smyth said there were four paralympic gold medallists from Northern Ireland - himself, his Team Ireland colleague Michael McKillop along with Team GB's Kelly Gallagher and Bethany Firth.

Image copyright BBC Sport
Image caption Olympic boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlon did not receive invitations to the event

Bethany Firth and Kelly Gallagher were invited to the event.

"My question was - what is the difference between those two girls being there and us two not," Smyth said.

In a statement, the IFA said: "The idea of the Lap of Legends was to bring some famous fans from the world of sport, TV and music together in one place along with other supporters and the football family to celebrate the opening of the new National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.

"There was a short 20-minute window in which to stage the event, so we were limited in terms of the number of people that we could invite.

Image caption Sports Minister Paul Givan said he had no doubt that the IFA had no intention of causing offence to anybody

"We did not intend to cause any offence to Jason or anyone else who was not part of the pre-match event.

"The Irish FA would be delighted to welcome Jason to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park in the future."

Sports Minister Paul Givan said that should be the end of the matter.

"I have no doubt whatsoever that the IFA had absolutely no intention of causing offence to anybody," he said

"So we shouldn't allow this to overshadow what was a very successful occasion."

You can listen back to the interview with Michael McKillop on Radio Ulster's Talkback .

Correction: An earlier version of this story said McKillop received his invitation on the Friday, not the Thursday.

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