Ulster's Olympic and Paralympic heroes were completely ignored in the New Year Honours List.
Despite 2012 being widely regarded as the greatest year ever for sport in the UK and the national list being dominated by Olympians, our local stars have been entirely overlooked in the awards released at the weekend.
Officials from the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) have confirmed that no local Olympian or Paralympian medallists were nominated.
Last night Olympians, Paralympians and their friends and families hit out at the decision.
Nelson Lindsay, who coaches Co Down gold medallist swimmer Bethany Firth, said: “It’s just a wee bit petty in the circumstances. I think it would have been a very generous gesture in a very special year.”
Local Paralympians returned home in September with five gold and two bronze medals, adding to the two silvers and three bronzes won at the Olympics — making it an astonishing summer of achievement for our athletes.
However, the Cabinet Office, which manages the UK honours system, pointed to the fact that Northern Ireland’s gold medallists represented Team Ireland at the 2012 Games.
A spokesman said: “All awards are based on services to the UK and that’s the criteria that the sports committee and all other committees look for.”
While recognising that Northern Ireland’s citizens are awarded dual Irish/British citizenship, in an arrangement unique to this region, he added: “The point is they are looking at what services they have done for the UK.”
But sporting figures pointed to discrepancies in that position.
Mr Lindsay said: “They have knighthoods for celebrities born outside the UK, so why can they not give any awards to a British citizen who has competed in the Paralympics and got gold medals? If you are on TV, they’re all for it.”
He added that swimming, like rugby and boxing, operates on an all-island basis here.
Yesterday officials from OFMDFM told the Belfast Telegraph that a silver medallist would not qualify for an award.
When this newspaper pointed to Olympic silver medal-winning gymnast Louis Smith, who received an award, a spokesman for the UK’s Cabinet Office clarified that recipients were determined on merit solely.
Bronze medal-winning rower Alan Campbell said: “There have been some outstanding contributions this year, in particular from our Paralympians Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth.”
The Coleraine man added: “It would have been nice to honour our sportsmen and women, but I'm not too concerned.”
But Bethany’s mother Lindsay expressed her frustration. Pointing to the struggle to secure gold postboxes for local heroes of the London 2012 Games, she said: “We have the same currency, we live in the UK, I am from England and Bethany’s brothers were born in Scotland, yet we get no recognition. I think it’s petty.”
Meanwhile, Paddy McKillop, father of Newtownabbey’s double gold medallist Michael, added: “I would have expected one (sporting) name from here.”
Stormont Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said all local sporting stars should be proud of their roles in the games.
Paralympic hero McKillop, from Glengormley, won gold in the T37 class 800m and 1,500m — and was later named the male athlete who best exemplified the spirit of the Paralympics in London.
Smyth — dubbed ‘the Paralympian Usain Bolt’ — took first place in the 100m final in a record time of 10.46 seconds.
Teenager Bethany led in the pool, taking gold in the S14 100m backstroke. Coleraine rowers, Richard and Peter Chambers also secured an Olympic silver medal.