Prime Minister David Cameron says the wide support from right across Northern Ireland has highlighted the region’s importance to the Olympic Games in London.
He was speaking as a row over the ‘Team GB’ name gained momentum, with many calling for it to be changed in order to include NI, feeling they are being left out.
Mr Cameron said: “In coming here to Northern Ireland, my message is clear: this spectacular Olympic and Paralympic Games is not just a London Games, it is a United Kingdom Games.
“Over the coming weeks we will see the very best athletes from across the globe compete here in the UK, including Northern Ireland’s Chambers brothers, Alan Campbell and Wendy Houvenaghel to name but a few.”
He said the huge support witnessed during the parading of the Olympic torch across Northern Ireland had showed how the Games are “touching people right across these islands”.
He added: “And Northern Ireland had a starring role at that incredible opening ceremony too — not just the Phil Kids and Belfast Philharmonic Youth Choir at the Giant’s Causeway, but Kenneth Branagh, born in Belfast, reading Shakespeare at the start, and Katie Kirk, a young athlete from Northern Ireland, helping to light the cauldron at the end.”
Mr Cameron said the Games had already left their mark.
“Northern Ireland is already benefiting from the Games, with over £40m of Olympic-related business being won by companies such as Lagan Construction who built the central bridge in the Olympic Park, which I walked over just a few days ago, and McGrath Group with their architectural metal work on the stadium.
“I want NI companies to build on this, showcase their expertise to the world, boost their international trade links and continue to reap the benefits of 2012.”
But as Northern Ireland’s athletes edged closer and closer to Olympic gold, the row over the Team GB name rumbles on — as politicians weigh in on concerns that the title is not inclusive and excludes top medal hopes.
Former Westminster Sports Minister Kate Hoey MP said broadcasters were incorrectly labelling Northern Ireland’s Olympic hopefuls as ‘Great British’ — which was causing upset among those cheering the talents on.
The term Great Britain only refers to England, Scotland and Wales and does not technically include Northern Ireland.
“I don’t know why they can’t just refer to them as British — especially when there are people from Northern Ireland,” Ms Hoey told the Belfast Telegraph.
“It is just factually incorrect, the BBC referring to Alan Campbell as the Great British rower.
“For many people it does cause upset,” she said.
“Being from Northern Ireland you could feel excluded.”
Last night BBC NI appeared to have changed its policy — referring to the athletes as Team GB and NI.
And according to Kate Hoey: “If everyone unites on this then we can get it changed for the next Olympics.”
Former Stormont Sports Minister Gregory Campbell said a win for some of Northern Ireland’s top talents out on the water would be “ironic” and “embarrassing if they are not technically part of Team GB”.
“If you have regions of the UK that aren’t included by virtue of where they are located, then obviously that will make athletes from that region feel that they aren’t part of the team,” Mr Campbell added.
The debate continued further online with many airing their own views on the controversy.
One tweeter wrote: “Why are we Team GB, not UK? Is Northern Ireland not part of it?”