Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Odyssey bosses may step in to throw Northern Ireland sports stars a party

People in Northern Ireland may finally get the chance to show their appreciation for our London 2012 heroes after Stormont refused to host a public celebration.

It is understood bosses at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast are considering throwing a party for all our Team GB and Team Ireland athletes in the coming weeks following the Sports Minister’s refusal to stage a public homecoming ceremony.

According to a source, management at the Odyssey feel it would be a fitting tribute to our five Olympic medal winners and seven Paralympians who came home with medals, as well as the other competitors and those who volunteered in London.

There has been widespread disappointment over Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin’s refusal to stage a public celebration.

A behind-the-scenes reception at Parliament Buildings is the only official event where Northern Ireland athletes will get together for recognition of their achievements.

It stands in stark contrast to the scenes earlier this week when crowds thronged the streets of London to honour Team GB, and Dublin Airport was swamped for the return of Team Ireland's Paralympians.

Around one million people took to the streets of the UK’s capital for a huge parade, and there were rapturous scenes in Dublin as Team Ireland’s athletes enjoyed a noisy welcome on touchdown.

Despite calls from our Olympic and Paralympic stars — as well as politicians from across the spectrum — Ms Ni Chuilin refused to bow to pressure and put the issue to bed on Tuesday.

She told the Belfast Telegraph: “A special ministerial reception is being held at Parliament Buildings on September 13, 2012 in honour of Olympic and Paralympic athletes from the North who competed at the London 2012 Games to publicly acknowledge their significant sporting achievements.

“The department has no plans for any other public homecoming event although we understand that some district councils are considering such events.”

A source within the Odyssey Arena said the idea of throwing a public event has yet to be discussed at length but it is a “realistic possibility”.

If given the green light, the wheels could be put in motion next week.

A spokesman for the attraction declined to comment.

Olympic medal-winning rowers Alan Campbell and Peter Chambers have backed calls for a united public event, as has boxer Michael Conlan and Paralympics star Michael McKillop.

Back in 1972 Belfast was packed as tens of thousands came out to welcome home Mary Peters from the Munich Olympics at which she won gold in the pentathlon.

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