Paralympic legend Jason Smyth has questioned why he wasn’t invited to participate in a gala event to celebrate Northern Ireland’s sporting elite.
To mark the completion of the redevelopment of Windsor Park in Belfast, a “Lap of Legends” took place prior to Saturday’s World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and San Marino.
Some of NI’s best known sports stars and celebrities were introduced to the 18,500 crowd at the £38 million stadium before parading around the pitch.
TV personality James Nesbitt and Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody joined sporting heroes including boxing champ Carl Frampton and Olympic gold medallist Dame Mary Peters.
Two of NI’s paralympians, swimmer Bethany Firth and skier Kelly Gallagher, also took part in the event.
However, Team Ireland athletes Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop were not there.
Smyth, from Eglinton, later took to social media to express his feelings.
In a message to Martin McGuinness on Twitter, the sprinter - a five times gold medallist - wrote: “Only in NI does the colours you wear mean more than what you achieve! Do you think we will ever move on?”
The deputy First Minister, who was among those who attended Saturday night’s match, responded: “Jason, if we have any sense, we can’t afford not to move on. Your contribution has been immense and must be recognised and appreciated.”
Speaking later, Smyth said he was disappointed not to have been asked to the event, adding: “For me, it shouldn’t ever be about what colours you wear or what flag you compete under.”
The sprinter, who is a devout Mormon, said he would definitely have accepted an invitation from the Irish Football Association (IFA).
He added: “I never put myself on either side of the fence. I’m not Protestant, I’m not a Catholic.”
The athlete, who has represented NI at the Commonwealth Games, said he took the decision to represent Ireland as a teenager after “Great Britain didn’t offer me any support”.
The IFA said it had not intended to cause offence to anyone who was left out of the event and added that it would be delighted to welcome Jason Smyth to Windsor Park in the future.